LOS ANGELES – For a few moments, this game felt like a horror movie that had already had too many sequels.
Were the Dallas Mavericks seriously going to let the Los Angeles Clippers pull off another late rally? Could the Clippers really come storming back in the final few minutes from a significant deficit against Dallas to pull out a victory for the fourth time this season?
That thought had to creep into the mind of every single person in Staples Center when it took the Clippers all of 85 seconds to slash the Mavs’ 12-point lead to two with 1 minute, 26 seconds remaining in Thursday night’s game.
Except for one of the NBA’s biggest brains, if you believe Mavs coach Rick Carlisle.
“I wasn’t worried,” Carlisle said after the Mavs survived with a 113-107 win that gave them sole possession of seventh place in the Western Conference. “I knew we were all right.”
“I just know things,” Carlisle deadpanned.
Well, it doesn’t take an advanced hoops degree to know that this was a massive victory for the Mavs, who are in the midst of a three-way fight with the Memphis Grizzlies and Phoenix Suns for the West’s final two playoff spots.
Nor does one need coach-of-the-year credentials to figure out what a great opportunity the rest of this four-game road trip represents for Dallas.
This was the one game on the West swing that the Mavs weren’t supposed to win on paper. Their next three opponents, beginning with the Mavs' Friday matchup against Staples Center’s other tenants, have the West’s three worst records.
Not that Dallas would dare take any foe for granted. Carlisle figured the Mavs could enjoy finally beating the Clippers for a couple of hours before focusing on Friday's game.
“We’ve got to take every opponent like it’s a playoff game already,” said Dirk Nowitzki, who led the Mavs with 26 points and 11 rebounds against the Clippers. “That’s what we have to do. We can’t have a let-up tomorrow. This win tonight means nothing if we lose tomorrow.”
The talk on L.A. sports talk radio is about “must-lose” games for the Los Angeles Lakers as one of the league’s proudest franchise prepares to put hope in lottery pingpong balls. However, the Mavs had hardly caught their breath after holding off the Clippers before going on and on about how dangerous the Lakers are, noting that they defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder and Suns at home last month.
What about Sacramento Kings on Sunday? The Mavs got spanked in their previous visit to Sacramento -- and got scared by the Kings at home last week.
“Every game on this road trip is tough because we’ve got a lot of teams we don’t match up well with,” said Shawn Marion, who joins Nowitzki as the lone Mavs remaining from the 2011 title roster. “Regardless of any records, we’re still going to have battles out there.
“Just because these teams don’t have winning records, they’re still capable of beating you. We understand that. We know that. We’re not overlooking nobody.”
But if the Mavs do handle their business on the rest of this trip, they’ve got a great chance to create some separation from those pesky Suns and Grizzlies. Memphis has to face the two Finals teams from last season over the next week; the Suns have dates with a pair of West playoff teams, the Portland Trail Blazers and Thunder.
The Mavs might be able to go into the Dallas-Memphis-Phoenix round-robin tournament serendipitously scheduled for the final week of the season focused solely on which seed they get, not whether they make the playoffs.
Then again, a good lead never seems to guarantee against drama for this Dallas team.