It wasn’t easy, but it’s official.
The Dallas Mavericks clinched a playoff spot for the 12th consecutive year on Thursday night by virtue of the Houston Rocket’s loss in New Orleans to the lowly Hornets. While seeding hasn’t yet been decided, qualifying for the playoffs this season has been nothing short of a chore for the Mavs. That may be acceptable for most teams in the league, but it’s not exactly how the world champions planned on defending their title.
Granted, the departure of center Tyson Chandler and guard JJ Barea among other key pieces made it virtually impossible to compete at the same level as last year, but one of the things a team looks forward to so much following a championship is a ‘defend-your-crown’ type of feeling all year. That feeling never quite came to fruition during the regular season. The good news for the Mavericks is they’ll get another chance to find it once the playoffs begin.
Much has come to light in the postseason picture over the last few days based on results for other potential playoff participants. The Mavericks clinching obviously guarantees Dallas at least the 8th seed in the Western Conference Playoffs and no better than the 6th seed due to the Memphis Grizzlies’ 85-80 win over the Charlotte Bobcats on Friday night. The unlikely scenario of facing the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round was significantly dashed on Thursday as they lost to the Phoenix Suns to inch closer to the 4th seed.
Overall, the most likely opponent for the Mavs when the playoffs begin is the Los Angeles Lakers, with minor possibilities of the San Antonio Spurs or Oklahoma City Thunder. Much discussion over which of those teams will provide the most favorable matchup for the Mavericks will take place in the Dallas-Fort Worth area over the next few days, but the fact is that those three teams are top seeds in the Western conference for a reason: They’re extremely good. Each will provide their own unique challenges for the Mavs, so the best thing to do for the rest of the season is to ignore the matchup talk.
The Mavericks’ time will be most effectively spent finding some offensive efficiency and staying healthy during the last few days of the regular season. It may even be worth Rick Carlisle’s time to rest Jason Kidd and Dirk Nowitzki for at least one of the final games. One only needs to look back a year to see how having rested stars can pay off in the postseason.
Only so much can be said about matchups, seedings, and home court advantage before the talk all starts to run together. The 2010 Mavericks were a number two seed with as promising a path through the playoffs as the franchise ever had before stumbling in the First Round. The 2011 Mavericks were picked by many to lose in the First Round to the Portland Trailblazers before going on to win the NBA Championship with arguably one of the most difficult paths in history.
All it takes is a spark and some momentum, which can appear at any time. These aren’t last year’s Dallas Mavericks, but the benefit of the doubt remains on their side.
Until it doesn’t, of course.