It’s hard to pin down exactly who the Dallas Mavericks are. In their last five games, they’ve gutted out a win against the bottom-feeding Detroit Pistons, beaten the LeBron James-less Los Angeles Lakers twice, lost to the lowly Sacramento Kings, and blown out the Golden State Warriors—holding the flame throwing Stephen Curry to a mere, human scale 27 points.
The wins against the Lakers and Warriors are what really matter here. Dallas currently holds the sixth seed in the Western Conference and is in a tight race for playoff seeding. Only five and a half games separate the fifth seeded Lakers from the tenth seeded Warriors. By notching wins against both, the Mavericks set themselves up to control their playoff fate.
Dallas is two games back of the Lakers. Perhaps more importantly, the Mavs are a game up on the Portland Trail Blazers, who sit in seventh. The Mavericks desperately want to avoid the seventh seed because that would mean entering the NBA’s play-in tournament for the final two playoff spots, which Luka Doncic and owner Mark Cuban have criticized in recent weeks.
“You play 72 games to get in the playoffs, then maybe you lose two in a row and you’re out of the playoffs,” Doncic said. “I don’t see the point of that.”
Luckily, thanks to some timely—and much needed—wins, Dallas has an upper hand that can potentially keep them from that dreaded outcome.
The Mavericks hold tiebreakers over six teams currently jockeying for playoff positioning in the West—the Los Angeles Clippers, Lakers, Denver Nuggets, San Antonio Spurs, Memphis Grizzlies and the Warriors. It’s likely unrealistic that the Mavs can catch the Clippers, they’re third in the standings, but there’s a very real possibility that Dallas could move up—or down—before the regular season is through, potentially bringing the tiebreakers into play.
However, the one team that the Mavericks don’t have a tiebreak advantage over is the Blazers. Portland took the season series with Dallas, two games to one. And while it’s the Blazers that are nipping at the Mavericks’ heels, they’re in a bit of a free fall. April hasn’t been kind to Damian Lillard and company as the Blazers have won just four of their 14 games. They also have one of the hardest remaining schedules.
With the Blazers struggling, the Mavericks could permanently lock up the sixth seed within the next week or so. It won’t be easy, though. The remaining 11 regular season games contain three sets of back-to-backs as well as meetings with the surging Washington Wizards, Miami Heat, Brooklyn Nets and Grizzlies. They also play a slew of lottery-bound teams. Overall, it’s not a difficult schedule on paper, per se, but the Mavericks have a knack for playing down to the competition.
Regardless, Dallas is in firm control of its destiny. Even holding so many tiebreakers in their back pocket, the Mavericks can’t afford to stumble their way into the post season. Wins against the Lakers and Warriors prove that the team has the mettle to rise to the occasion and compete with some of the best in the league. They just have to bring that effort and energy every night.
“It feels good, especially when we know what we’re trying to do, especially with the standings and stuff like that,” Dorian Finney-Smith said recently after beating the Lakers. “We just got to take it one game at a time and get as many wins as we can.”