Playoffs 'lovely,' but Mavs have loftier goals

Dirk Nowitzki says the playoffs are where competitors want to be and that it's fun to be back. Tom Pennington/Getty Images

DALLAS -- This isn’t baseball, so the Dallas Mavericks didn’t pop any champagne bottles in the locker room after clinching a playoff berth Saturday night.

There weren’t any wild celebrations, but there was a sense of temporary satisfaction.

"Ah man, it's lovely," said Monta Ellis, a nine-year veteran who had been a part of only two previous playoff teams. "We set this goal at the beginning of training camp. Everybody doubted us and for us to come and be here in the playoffs, and then add our goal to get 50 wins, we got one more game to do that and get ready for the playoffs."

As Vince Carter said, the Mavs are back where they feel like they should be. This is a franchise that considers missing out on the postseason, as it did last year to end a streak of 12 straight playoff appearances, to be a massive failure.

But there are only two players on the roster who have been part of a playoff win in a Mavs uniform, something that hasn’t happened since they popped champagne bottles after Game 6 of the 2011 Finals.

The Mavs made major roster renovations for the second straight summer, making upgrades this time instead of just adding players as temporary placeholders, but there were certainly no guarantees that this team would play more than 82 games. In the deep Western Conference, it took 81 games and a lot of ups and downs before Dallas punched its playoff ticket.

"It feels good to be back in the big dance again," said Dirk Nowitzki, the lone constant on the roster of those 13 playoff teams. "That's where competitors want to be -- on the big stage in the playoffs -- so it's fun to be back."

The Mavs have accomplished a major goal, but they've just met the bare minimum expectation for this proud franchise.

They're not sure who they'll face in the playoffs, but the Mavs know they'll be underdogs whether they get matched up with the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder or Los Angeles Clippers. After Sunday's NBA action, the sixth through eighth seeds are still all possibilities for the Mavs.

The Golden State Warriors, who lost an overtime thriller Sunday night in Portland, can clinch the sixth seed with a win over the Minnesota Timberwolves or Denver Nuggets the next few nights. If the Warriors lose both games and the Mavs win their regular-season finale in Memphis, Dallas would be the sixth seed, almost certainly opening the playoffs in L.A.

Dallas controls its destiny with the seventh seed. They'll finish at least that high in the West standings if they wrap up the regular season with a road win over the Memphis Grizzlies. If the Grizzlies lose Monday night in Phoenix, that would work for the Mavs, too. That probably would mean a quick trip across the Red River.

If the Grizzlies win out, the Mavs would be the eighth seed, earning them a trip to San Antonio to face a Spurs team that has a nine-game winning streak over its Interstate 35 rivals. That's not a good way to accomplish Dallas' next goal.

"It's a great accomplishment to get to the playoffs," said Shawn Marion, the only other player remaining from the title roster. “It's not just about getting to the playoffs, though. It's about getting to the playoffs and making a run at something. That's the ultimate challenge. That's what it's all about."