These final eight games of the regular season will decide the Dallas Mavericks' playoff fate, and it has nothing to do with whether they'll make the playoffs.
How deep they can go in the postseason depends on the health and level of play that Jason Kidd can maintain. The Mavs went 1-3 without him this time and teammates were practically giddy to get him back from a groin injury Tuesday night, a 110-100 win over the Kings. It was his third nagging injury of the season and one he says has been bothering him all year.
"When you have struggles you can easily see the things you miss when he's out," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "At the same time, I don't necessarily know that he's going to be finishing the game for us. I made it clear to our point guards that those guys have to be ready to do that."
Kidd's return lasted 22 minutes in the win over the Kings. Not a second of that playing time was spent in the fourth quarter, a formula Carlisle has followed at times this season and one you can bet he'd love to employ tonight at Golden State and Friday at Portland with the Los Angeles Lakers waiting for Sunday's nationally televised game.
This is a challenging week for Carlisle, not only in managing Kidd's minutes, but Dirk Nowitzki's as well with four games in five nights and two sets of back-to-backs. Close games will require both players to be on the floor late because the Mavs can't afford many missteps or a playoff spot will be in jeopardy.
From Mark Cuban to Carlisle to Nowitzki, all put the team's health and, in particular, Kidd's health and energy at the top of the list for playoff success.
"We’ve got to stay healthy, I think that’s the main key," Nowitzki said. "We need Kidd out there when we make the playoffs. We need some of the other guys to make an impact, so hopefully we can stay injury-free from here on out and see what we do."
Season averages: 28.0 mpg, 5.9 ppg, 5.3 apg, 4.1 rpg
The breakdown: Kidd has played 43 games this season, more than just Delonte West (36), Brian Cardinal (39), Dominique Jones (31) and Yi Jianlian (27). If he plays the final eight games, he'll finish the 66-game schedule having played just 51 games, his fewest since playing 50 during the lockout-shortened 1999-99 season. Of course, then the season consisted of 50 games. Kidd's conditioning could be challenged this week because of the number of games and how quickly they come. Kidd hasn't logged at least 30 minutes in a game since March 24.
Season averages: 33.1 mpg, 21.1 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 2.2 apg
The breakdown: Nowitzki's average finally topped the 33-minute mark with a heavy workload that included just his second 40-plus-minute game of the season in the overtime loss to Portland. He logged 43 minutes, one shy of his season-high 44 that strangely also came against the Blazers in a double-overtime win. Should he be prepared for another 40-minute night Friday when the Mavs play at Portland? Carlisle was able to limit Dirk to 29 minutes Tuesday to get him rested for this first back-to-back. Of some concern is Dirk's recent shooting swoon, 9-of-30 from the floor in the last two games.