Will Mavs finally part with protected pick?

DALLAS -- When checking the NBA standings in the morning, Mavericks fans shouldn’t just focus on the cluster of teams competing for the final couple of Western Conference playoff spots.

Keep an eye on the middle of the East playoff pack, too. The records for the Toronto Raptors and Chicago Bulls, in particular, could have a significant impact on the Mavs’ future.

That’s because of that pesky top-20 protected pick the Mavs owe the Oklahoma City Thunder (via the Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets) from the disastrous Lamar Odom deal. The Mavs would much prefer to unload the pick this season, freeing them to discuss future first-rounders in trade discussions.

For most of the season, it appeared that the Mavs would simply have to make the playoffs to avoid having a top-20 pick because the East was so inferior. However, the Bulls and Raptors have both pulled even with the Mavs in the loss column with 46-32 records.

Right now, with the 48-32 Mavs sitting in eighth place in the West, they would get the No. 21 pick and give it to the Thunder. But, like their fight for a playoff spot, their hopes of staying out of the top 20 could go down to the wire.

Tiebreakers for draft order are determined by random drawings.

The Raptors’ remaining schedule consists of home and road games against the New York Knicks, a trip to Detroit and a home game against the miserable Milwaukee Bucks. The Bulls’ remaining schedule isn’t much tougher: vs. Detroit, at New York, vs. Orlando, at Charlotte.

The pick owed OKC becomes unprotected in 2018.