The Mavericks head into the All-Star break as one of the NBA’s hottest teams, winning six of their last seven games, a run punctuated by beating the big, bad Indiana Pacers in a brawl.
As Dirk Nowitzki heads to New Orleans and his teammates scatter to sunny vacation destinations, the Mavs sit in sixth place in the Western Conference standings. That’s a far cry from being six games under .500 at the All-Star break a year ago.
The Mavs can afford to take nothing for granted, but the math is certainly in their favor when it comes to making the playoffs. The Hollinger Playoff Odds, a statistical formula created by Memphis vice president of basketball operations John Hollinger during his days as an ESPN analyst, put the Mavs’ chances at 79.1 percent. (Hollinger’s ninth-place Grizzlies are at 39.1 percent.)
If the playoffs started tomorrow, the Mavs would be matched up with their Interstate 45 rival, the Houston Rockets. That sounds like a lot of fun, pairing two high-scoring teams with the potential for some juicy off-court banter between Mark Cuban and Dwight Howard, last summer’s heartbreaker.
But the playoff pairings could shift on a daily basis, with Houston one of three teams who are 5 ½ games back from the first-place Oklahoma City Thunder and the Mavs leading a pack of three teams within a half-game of each other at the bottom of the playoff bracket. It’s a long shot that the Mavs can climb any higher than sixth in the standings, so let’s look at how they might match up in a playoff series with each of the teams above them.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
The Thunder have the league’s best record despite perennial All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook missing much of the season due to knee surgeries. Kevin Durant is the clear-cut MVP leader, which is remarkable considering that LeBron James is still in his prime. Oklahoma City has won 12 of 13 meetings with Dallas since the Mavs eliminated the Thunder in the 2011 West finals. Needless to say, the Mavs would much prefer to avoid being the eighth seed.
Season series: Thunder, 1-0
Mavs’ shot: A Samuel Dalembert 80-footer
SAN ANTONIO SPURS
The Spurs’ winning streak over the Mavs stands at seven games. The average margin of victory during that streak is 16.9 points. Gregg Popovich is probably the only coach in the West who would have an edge over Rick Carlisle. Tony Parker is a matchup nightmare for the Mavs’ guards. Same goes for Tim Duncan inside. And the Spurs have several role players who have come up big against Dallas.
Season series: Spurs, 2-0
Mavs’ shot: A contested Shawn Marion halfcourt heave
How about first to 120 wins each game? James Harden and Monta Ellis can’t guard each other. The Mavs have no answer for Howard. Nor do the Rockets for Nowitzki. The regular-season series is already over and it ended up even – not just in wins, but in points. This could be a really fun series between teams that have enough bad blood (at least in the front offices) to make for a heck of a Lone Star State rivalry.
Season series: Tied, 2-2
Mavs’ shot: A Dirk one-legged fadeaway with Howard in his face
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
The Clippers pulled off a couple of jaw-dropping comebacks over Dallas with Mavs castoff Darren Collison playing point guard. That doesn’t exactly inspire confidence if a healthy Chris Paul is running the show for Lob City and setting up athletic freaks Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Clippers small forward Matt Barnes, who has faced the Mavs in memorable playoff series with the Warriors and Lakers, used to get under Dallas’ skin as much as anybody. That dishonor might go to Griffin now.
Season series: Clippers, 2-0
Mavs’ shot: An off-the-dribble 30-footer by Monta Ellis
PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
The first-round matchup with the Blazers ended up being the Mavs’ toughest challenge en route to the 2011 Finals. LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews are the only players left from that Portland roster. Nowitzki and Marion are the only championship pieces left on the Dallas roster. The Mavs would have a puncher’s chance in this series because the Blazers aren’t any better than Dallas defensively. In fact, Portland is the only team that would make the playoffs at this point that ranks lower than the Mavs in defensive rating.
Season series: Tied, 1-1
Mavs’ shot: A Vince Carter 3-pointer