DALLAS – Coach Rick Carlisle wants the Mavericks’ players focused on the task at hand each day, not caught up in checking the scoreboard and Western Conference standings.
Of course, Mavs owner Mark Cuban can do whatever he pleases, and he sees significant opportunity when he scans the standings with 10 games to go in the regular season.
Cuban has heard all the talk about the possibility of the Mavs finishing in ninth place, which would mean missing the playoffs for the second straight season after the franchise earned 12 consecutive postseason berths. He wonders why there isn’t any discussion about Dallas climbing up a few spots and grabbing the fifth seed.
“We’re, what, two games behind Portland?” Cuban said.
Yep, the 43-29 Mavs are only two games behind the slumping Trail Blazers (3-7 in their last 10 games) and own the tiebreaker by virtue of Dallas winning the season series, 2-1. The Mavs are 1 ½ games behind the sixth-place Golden State Warriors and have a golden opportunity to make up a game when the Warriors visit Tuesday.
But the Mavs have no breathing room at the bottom of the playoff picture. They’re sitting in the final spot at the moment, percentage points behind the Memphis Grizzlies and a half-game ahead of the Phoenix Suns entering Wednesday night’s NBA action.
As much as the Mavs are living by the one-day-at-a-time mantra, there is a strong belief in the locker room that their battle for a playoff spot will go down to the last week of the season.
The Mavs’ final two games are April 12 at home against the Suns -- a meeting that will determine the Dallas-Phoenix tiebreaker -- and April 16 on the road against a Memphis team that is 0-3 against Dallas this season. The Grizzlies play in Phoenix on April 14, so the final week of the season essentially features a round-robin tournament between the three teams who are within a half-game of each other now.
“We’re going to have our hands full just to get in,” Dirk Nowitzki said. “We’ve got a heck of a schedule coming down the stretch, so I guess that’s all we’re focusing on now, finishing strong these last 10 games, keep competing and playing off each other on offense and see what happens. We’ll worry about matchups when we finally know, but the way it’s looking, it’s going to come down to the last couple of games.
“We kind of waited on Phoenix the whole season to kind of cast away, but they just keep coming. They’re just so athletic and they’re well coached. They’re a fun, fun group to watch. They’re going to keep pushing, and so are we and Memphis.”
A reminder from Cuban: Don’t forget about Portland and Golden State.