At first glance, the math doesn’t look too daunting. After winning four of the last five games, the Dallas Mavericks are only three games out of eighth place in the Western Conference.
They’ve given themselves a slim chance at extending the franchise’s playoff streak to 13 years. They’ve at least earned the opportunity to make the last quarter of the season meaningful.
“We’ve got 20 games left and we’re going to let it all hang out there,” Dirk Nowitzki told reporters after Sunday’s rout of a depleted Minnesota squad. “Now, the games are going to get tough.”
Beginning with Tuesday’s road game against the Milwaukee Bucks, the Mavs will face teams in the playoff picture in 13 of their final 20 games. After leaving Milwaukee and getting a day off, the Mavs go into a stretch of four games in five days that includes matchups against the West’s two best teams – the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder.
As Nowitzki noted, for the Mavs to have any hope, they need everyone in the rotation to be “firing on all cylinders.”
The question is whether the Mavs can catch any of the last three teams holding on to playoff bids.
It’s hard to see that happening with the star-loaded Los Angeles Lakers, who moved into the eighth seed Sunday. L.A. is 13-4 since the beginning of February and is three games up on the Mavs.
The seventh-seeded Rockets have a four-game cushion on Dallas. The Mavs own the tiebreaker over Houston, but the Rockets have a favorable schedule down the stretch, playing 12 of their remaining 18 games at home.
The sixth-seeded Warriors might be the team most likely to fall out of the West playoff picture despite being five games up on the Mavs. Golden State has lost 12 of its last 17 games but owns the tie-breaker over the Mavs.
“We’re definitely watching the standings,” Mavs big man Elton Brand told reporters. “We want to get in the playoffs. That’s our goal. That’s the real season. We’re trying hard to get back in there. We’re not going to quit.”
A few more notes from the Mavs’ blowout of the Timberwolves:
1. Wright on: Brandan Wright, who has floated in and out of Rick Carlisle’s rotation this season, has made a major impact during the Mavs’ three-game winning streak.
Wright, the lanky, high-leaping center/forward, has averaged 13.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.7 blocks and shot an eye-popping 79.2 percent from the floor over the last three games.
As well as Wright is playing, his minutes might dip when Shawn Marion returns, which the Mavs hope will happen Tuesday night in Milwaukee. Wright has been getting minutes as a backup power forward, a role Marion usually fills.
2. Bench boost: Give Darren Collison credit for being professional and productive after losing his starting job yet again.
That doesn’t mean he’ll earn back the starting gig at point guard. Carlisle strongly indicated that he believes the reserve role is the right fit for Collison, who has come off the bench for each game of the Mavs’ winning streak.
“I think he’s a great off-the-bench guy in this league,” Carlisle told reporters. “Off the bench, I think he’s a special player.”
Collison has had the Mavs’ best plus-minus in both games of this road trip. He was plus-27 during his nine-point, eight-assist outing in Minnesota and plus-21 during his 11-point, eight-assist performance in Detroit.
3. O.J. OK?: The only player on the roster who has played every game this season suffered a scare when O.J. Mayo turned his right ankle after coming down on a defender’s foot in the second half.
Mayo left the game, but he soon returned and showed no ill effects while finishing off an eight-point, eight-rebound, seven-assist night. Mayo will get treatment and is expected to be in the starting lineup again Tuesday night.
“He’s pretty tough,” Carlisle said of Mayo, who has missed only one game due to injury or illness during his five-year career.