Mavs not ready to throw in the towel

DALLAS -- For more than a decade, Dallas Mavericks fans could take a couple of things to the bank.

Dirk Nowitzki would be an All-Star, and the Mavs would make the playoffs.

Well, this time, Nowitzki will spend his All-Star weekend relaxing on a beach. Realistically, it looks like his schedule in late April will be wide open, too.

Dirk can deal with his streak of 11 straight All-Star selections being snapped. It will be much tougher for him to stomach a run of a dozen consecutive playoff berths ending if the Mavs fail to pull off a miraculous rally in the final 30 games of the season.

"It is a long time, obviously," Nowitzki said. "It'd be really disappointing to see it end, obviously. Only missed it my first two years and then always had fun. Obviously, playoffs is where I want to be.

"It starts getting warm out, and that's my time of the year. Every game is big. The adjustments, all that stuff, the atmosphere -- it's fun to be in the playoffs. It'd be tough to see that end, so we're going to keep on pushing."

Never mind the numbers that indicate it's close to impossible for the Mavs to make a playoff push.

The Mavs are well aware they sit in 11th place in the Western Conference standings, 4½ games out of the final playoff seed. If they've crunched the numbers, they know they need to go 18-12 just to get back to .500 and shave off their beards, much less leapfrog the Portland Trail Blazers, Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets to punch their postseason ticket.

A team that's six games under .500 would have to perform like a 50-plus-win team the rest of the season to give the Mavs any hope of keeping their postseason streak alive.

In other words, the Mavs would have to live up to the high standards they established over the past decade and change.

The 50-win streak ended last year after 11 straight seasons. Only Magic Johnson's Lakers and Tim Duncan's San Antonio Spurs have had longer such runs of success in NBA history.

The Mavs' 12 consecutive playoff berths put them in pretty exclusive company, too. The Spurs, at 15 seasons and counting, are the lone franchise with a longer active postseason streak. There have been only 11 other playoff streaks that were longer than Dallas' dozen-year run.

"Is it a pride point? Absolutely," said Donnie Nelson, who was an assistant coach under his dad when the streak started before moving into the front office as Mark Cuban's right-hand basketball man. "The last [12] years, it's been an amazing run and we want to continue that momentum.

"It helps everything, it helps free agency, it helps season tickets, it helps Mark and Coach and my sanity. It's definitely a focus."

That's the primary reason it's hard to see the Mavs as sellers -- such as flipping productive veterans Shawn Marion or Vince Carter for young players or draft picks -- before the Feb. 21 trade deadline.

To borrow from last season's failed postseason slogan, the Mavs are "all-in" on trying to sneak into the playoffs, no matter how slim their odds would be of upsetting the Spurs or Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round.

A certain sense of sometimes delusional self-confidence has been a healthy part of the culture during the Mavs' recent glory years.

(Think of Jason Terry, after being shut down by LeBron James in the fourth quarters of two Finals losses, barking to anybody who would listen that King James couldn't keep it up ... and then backing up his bold words the rest of the series.)

The few who are left from the 2011 NBA title team will quickly and accurately point out that pretty much nobody who didn't wear blue believed the Mavs were legitimate contenders before that miraculous championship run.

They darn sure aren't going to call themselves dead now, not until they're mathematically eliminated -- no matter how likely the impending doom of their playoff streak appears.

"It's a part I'm not used to," said Cuban, who has had a courtside seat for the playoffs in every full season of his ownership tenure. "It's happened to every other team, except maybe the Spurs, since I've been here, and it happened to them right before I got involved.

"So it happens to everybody. I always told my wife, 'It's just a matter of time.' But hopefully it won't be my time yet.

"I still think we can. So we'll see. Stranger things have happened."

It's a safe bet that the Mavs will be bummed on a beach when the playoffs begin. They've got 30 games to buck those odds.