The Mavs are at a pivotal moment in their season and the next week should indicate whether they make the playoffs or not.
The Mavs emphatically beat the Knicks last night 114-90 in what felt like a revenge game for the shellacking the Mavs took back in early November from them. This was the start of a three game road trip that should hopefully help buck the season long trend of being abysmal on the road. If the Mavs can pull out a win tonight, it will be a statement of how hard this team is going to push for the playoffs.
Even before the season started, the Mavs stated their goal was to make the playoffs. So much so that they were convinced giving up next year’s first round pick for Luka Doncic wouldn’t even matter. Well, the team currently sits at record of 23-27, 4.5 games out of the 8th seed in the Western Conference. There are four teams standing between them and the playoffs and the slimmest of margins to get in, but there is still a chance. Let’s look at all the things that need to happen to maybe sneak into the playoffs.
LA Clippers (28-23) – 8th Place
The Clippers have been on magical run this year that no one saw coming. They are slowly but surely falling back to earth as the season runs on. They have the weakest strength of schedule remaining of all four teams at .493, which will help, but probably not enough. They recently lost five straight to playoff bound teams and additionally lost to the Mavs and the lowly Hawks. It does not seem like they are built for the long haul, but it’s more likely the teams below them are just as good, so they can easily fall back in the playoff race.
LA Lakers (26-25) – 9th Place
The Lakers…Oh the Lakers…
The team as it currently stands is not playing particularly good basketball, but they are about to get back the mother of all playoff pushes in Lebron James. LBJ can easily return from his injury and put the entire team in his backpack and carry them all the playoffs. Lebron presents the single largest hurdle for the Mavs to make the playoffs. But if Lebron’s injury lingers and puts him back on the shelf, the Mavs could sneak past.
But, if the Lakers pull off this magical trade of their entire team of youth for Anthony Davis, they could potentially be worse for lack of depth (highly unlikely) or potentially way better and push their way to the 7th seed. A trade like this changes the math for all playoff scenarios.
Sacramento Kings (26-25) – 10th Place
The Kings are a fun team to watch with De’Aaron Fox, Marvin Bagley and Buddy Hield who are finally making that push they could never do with Boogie on the roster. They play .500 ball with all the energy and frustrating mistakes of youth, which makes them a fun watch, but historically doesn’t bode well for playoff runs. Like the Clippers, they have a low strength of schedule remaining at .498, but youth might get the better of them, especially if the Super Lakers pass them by.
Minnesota Timberwolves (25-26) – 11th Place
The T-Wolves are the least likely to power through the rest of the season and make a playoff appearance for two reasons: 1) They have the hardest strength of schedule remaining for a team playing sub .500 ball at .533 and 2) Their success depends entirely on Karl-Anthony Townes and his point guards’ health.
Both Teague and D-Rose have missed significant time due to injuries. And we all know that relying on D-Rose’s health for a playoff push doesn’t have a great history. Townes is playing great (leads the team in points, rebounds and blocks), but he can’t do it alone. The Mavs and the T-Wolves look to jockey for position for the rest of the season. A run of Ws for the Mavs would do wonders to pass them.
Starting last night, the Mavs have four games straight this week against sub .500 teams, which can really dictate where they are headed for the last 30 games of the season. After last night’s win, if the Mavs win the other three games, this put them right in the mix with these other teams as they are all only separated by four games. These are practically must-win games to stay within striking distance.
Also, next Thursday is the NBA Trade Deadline. The Mavs have assets that want to be moved (Dennis Smith Jr.) assets that can be easily moved (Wes Matthews) and assets that other teams might value for specific needs (Harrison Barnes and DeAndre Jordan). The Mavs starters have just not meshed as well as they do on paper and the starting lineup is regularly a negative in the plus minus, making them one of the least effective starting groups in that category in the league.
If the Mavs want to truly push for the playoffs, a trade netting a player that can add enough win shares will help get them there. True, it will probably require taking on a larger contract and giving up cap space for this summer, but with the Mavs giving up their 2019 Draft pick in the Luka deal it is the best way to upgrade the team.
What If We Make It?
With the hope and a prayer path the Mavs would have taken to make the playoffs, we would almost certainly be guaranteed a fast first round exit from the Warriors. Even though we beat them back in Nov, they were without Steph and we had JJ to run the second unit. The next two meetings we played them hard for close losses in December and January, but the addition of Boogie Cousins is a problem the Mavs cannot solve. It would be over fast.
But we would get to see Dirk have one final taste of playoff basketball before he hangs it up and we could let Luka get a fire in his belly for future playoff battles. That would be worth it for fans who have suffered through the longest playoff drought the Mavs have had in over 20 years.
What if We Don’t Make It?
If the Mavs don’t make the playoffs, it becomes about training up guys like Jalen Brunson and seeing what Dorian and Maxi can really do with proper minutes before contract negotiations begin. It also becomes about showcasing trade assets for July 1 to show other teams how a Mavs player can help them and get the Mavs either a good player back or a draft pick to get back in the youth building movement. It’s no question the Mavericks will be built around Luka for the foreseeable future and it would all be about seeing who and what works best next to him.
This next week should really show where the team’s priorities lie going forward and Thursday should be an interesting day for the league. No matter what, this team needs to make some noise either on the court or off of it to have a chance at the playoffs.
All they have is a chance, hopefully they do something with it.
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