Mavs' priority is getting healthy

DALLAS -- The notion that a team needs momentum entering the NBA playoffs is a myth.

For proof, look no further than the last NBA champions.

The Dallas Mavericks didn't exactly look like championship material coming down the stretch. They had a four-game losing streak the week before the regular season ended. They snapped a skid of nine straight losses to Western Conference playoff teams in the regular-season finale.

Then they lost only five games throughout a stunning postseason run that culminated with a party at Miami Beach's Club Liv and a parade in downtown Dallas.

"When we got to the postseason, we were just a different team," Shawn Marion said. "Different mentality. It was like a switch that clicked on, and there wasn't any turning it off."

So momentum might not be a requirement for the Mavs to make another playoff run. However, it's going to be hard for the Mavs to make the playoffs unless they establish a little momentum in the final quarter of this crazy, lockout-compressed season.

With 16 games to go, the Mavs are smack dab in the middle of the West playoff picture, sitting in the fifth seed at the moment. They also could be a couple of bad nights from lottery territory with the toughest remaining schedule among the contenders, at least in terms of competition.

There is one major perk to the Mavs' schedule that directly addresses their primary concern entering the playoffs. They have four days off before their regular-season finale, essentially guaranteeing fresh legs for the Mavs' many decade-plus veterans when (if?) they begin their first-round series.

"Overall, health is the No. 1 priority, and treating every moment we're together on the court practicing and playing with great meaning is the other, because it's all very meaningful right now," coach Rick Carlisle said.

That isn't just because the Mavs are part of a seven-team pack scrapping for the final five playoff bids in the West bracket.

Momentum and continuity aren't prerequisites for playoff success, as the Mavs proved last season, but you'd certainly prefer to have them.

Then again, it's no wonder why the Mavs were a different team with a different mentality when the playoffs started last season. It wasn't just a bunch of vets hungry for their first ring ratcheting up the intensity level.

Carlisle made a major change to alter the dynamic of the team just before the playoffs started, summoning the slightly insane, totally intense DeShawn Stevenson from the end of the bench to the starting lineup and sitting laidback Rodrigue Beaubois.

It should surprise nobody -- and please many -- if Carlisle opts to make Lamar Odom the odd man out of the Mavs' rotation at the end of this irregular season.

They play different positions, have different track records and different reasons for their struggles, but Odom's Mavs saga is similar in some ways to Beaubois' bumpy ride a year ago. They were supposed to be major impact players, but instead contributed next to nothing, yet got chance after chance to prove they could perform up to their potential.

If Odom doesn't prove he's ready, it'd be ridiculous to include him in the playoff rotation.

The Mavs will welcome back a couple of key pieces over the next week or so when big man Brendan Haywood and guard Delonte West, a more skilled, versatile version of Stevenson, return from injuries.

Haywood's role is clear: He'll start at center. West's isn't so certain.

Should West start in the backcourt with Jason Kidd? Should Carlisle keep Vince Carter in the starting lineup and roll with the Mavs' best plus-minus five at the beginning of games? Should West get all the backup point guard minutes or share those with Beaubois?

"It's going to be hard to play all those guys in a rotation in a playoff series," Carlisle said.

That's not necessarily true. The Mavs can have a fine four-guard rotation with Kidd, West, Jason Terry and Beaubois and bring Carter off the bench to play significant minutes at small forward. That would allow Marion to play power forward when Dirk Nowitzki sits -- which won't be that often during the playoffs -- as was the case during last season's championship run.

And it'd keep Odom out of the way.

"There are a lot of possibilities. There are a lot of possibilities," Carlisle said when that option was mentioned. "At this point, there aren't a lot of games left, but there are. And that's really the truth. A lot can happen in 16 games."

It'd be a miracle at this point for Odom, who is a mental mess, to actually earn minutes over the final month of the regular season.

That'd have to be considered a bonus for the Mavs. Same with establishing momentum and continuity.

Just give the defending champions a seed and some fresh legs and they'll take their chances.