Mavs have to hold own vs. heavyweights

SAN ANTONIO -- The Mavericks’ move up to the NBA’s heavyweight division hasn’t gone well so far.

Dallas didn’t get knocked out by the Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs, but they still lost both bouts.

Never mind the Mavs, who beat up a bunch of flyweights for most of February, proving that they’re capable of being a threat in the playoffs. If they can’t hold their own against quality competition, the Mavs might find themselves as postseason spectators for the second straight season, which would be painfully embarrassing for a proud franchise that made 12 straight playoff appearances before last year.

“We’ve got a tough stretch here going towards the end of the season,” Dirk Nowitzki said after Sunday’s loss to San Antonio. “We’ve got to win some games. We’ve got to beat some [good] teams to even make it in. Memphis is going to make a push. All season long, you figure Phoenix would at some point crumble, but they play hard and are well coached and play together.

“So it looks like we’ve got to keep winning at a high clip, and these two games in a row losing doesn’t help.”

There aren’t a lot of layups left on the Mavs’ schedule, with only six of their remaining games against teams that currently have a losing record.

One of those comes Wednesday when the Mavs visit the injury-depleted Denver Nuggets, who have plummeted out of playoff contention with 10 losses in their last 11 games.

“I don’t think there are for us any easy games on the schedule,” Nowitzki said.

Maybe not, but there are games the Mavs absolutely can’t afford to lose, such as Wednesday night.

The odds are still heavily in the Mavs’ favor as far as making the playoffs goes. They’ve got an 80.2 percent chance of being a playoff team, according to the Hollinger Playoff Odds. At 36-25, they’re a half-game behind the sixth-place Golden State Warriors in the West standings, virtually even with the 35-24 Phoenix Suns and a game and a half ahead of the Memphis Grizzlies.

“We know we have an opportunity,” Vince Carter said. "We know we’re a good team. We just have to keep pushing. We know we’re going to drop some of them, but we’re going to win more than we lose, I’ll tell you that.

“At this point in the deal, we’re fighting for position. We can’t worry about the opponent. We’ve come so far. We’re playing a lot better basketball. I think we’re still a confident basketball team. I think we showed it [Sunday] against a good team. Just couldn’t get over the hump. Gotta find a way because it’s going to be like this in the playoffs.”

Gotta find a way to get into the playoffs, preferably by winning their fair share of these heavyweight bouts.