A week and a half ago, any discussions about the Mavericks’ playoff chances occurred in a mocking tone.
Well, at least outside of the Mavs’ inner circle.
As bad as it got -- and it was awful when Dallas lost 10 of 11 games -- the Mavs never lowered their expectations to lottery level. Dirk Nowitzki might have expressed his disdain with the thought of competing for an eighth seed, but he always believed the Mavs would battle to extend their playoff streak. Same with Mark Cuban, Rick Carlisle and on down the organization.
Suddenly, the thought of the Mavs being anything don’t seem so laughable.
The Mavs have snapped out of their funk by winning five of the last six games, with the lone loss during that stretch coming in OT against the West-leading Oklahoma City Thunder. The Mavs hopped a couple of spots to 11th in the West standings and shaved 3.5 games off their deficit from the No. 8 spot. They’re now three games behind the Rockets and Trail Blazers, who are tied for eighth and mired in losing streaks of seven and five games, respectively.
At one point, the Mavs' playoff odds hovered around 1 percent, per John Hollinger's statistical formula. They've been boosted to 22.8 percent now.
“At least we find ways to win now,” Nowitzki told reporters after Sunday’s win in Orlando. “When I first came back a couple of weeks ago, we lost those close games. Now we are hanging in there. We get a big basket then you have to get a big stop. That is what you have to do in this league if you want to win. You have to execute down the stretch and find the right guys.
“Winning cures a lot. We had a bad atmosphere there for a while when we were losing. The coaches were on the edge and the players were, but when you win it is a lot more fun. It is a lot more fun in the locker rooms, on the buses, in the meetings, so hopefully we can make a push. We had a big week.”
Meanwhile, the Lakers can’t get out of their funk, losing eight of their last 10 games. It’s been widely assumed that the Lakers would claim one of the West’s bids, but there’s no evidence other than their stars’ past accomplishments to indicate that will be the case.
The Mavs, who have made the playoffs the last 12 seasons, made up a lot of ground in a little more than a week. They’ve got a little less than three months to make up the rest.