The Dallas Mavericks are in the midst of a slump against playoff contenders within their conference. The loss against the Portland Trail Blazers marked their fourth consecutive defeat to a potential playoff opponent in the last 10 days (Memphis, New Orleans, Los Angeles and Portland). Looking back even farther, you have to go back to Jan. 19 to find the last game that the Mavericks won against an opponent who would make the playoffs in the Western Conference if the season ended today. Add it all together and the Mavericks have lost five consecutive games to potential playoff participants.
Despite the tough stretch, Dallas will continue to see how they stack up against potential playoff foes through the end of the regular season. As we noted, the Mavericks are finished with the Eastern Conference and over the final 14 games, eight of those games are against possible first-round opponents including the Blazers, the Denver Nuggets, New Orleans Hornets, Memphis Grizzlies and long shots in the form of the Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns (twice) and Houston Rockets. Those three teams at the end are long shots, so we will focus our attention on the teams that were mentioned and see what the Mavericks could have in store if they were to face any of those teams in the first round of the playoffs.
Denver Nuggets (41-27): Nuggets up 2-1 this season, final match-up on April 6 in Dallas
The Nuggets are a team the Mavericks do not want to see. Denver is 9-2 since trading away Carmelo Anthony and their numbers dictate that they have really stepped up their game since then. Heading into Wednesday, the Nuggets averaged 109.3 points/game while holding the opposition to 96.1 points/game. They are out-rebounding opponents by 8.9 rebounds/game since the trade. The Nuggets have a bench that can be on the level with the Mavericks and their overall depth would cause an issue in the altitude. They are a team with no fear and the Mavericks have not fared exactly well against a team in that kind of scenario (Golden State, 2006-07). The problem with Denver is that you really have no idea who to key on from a defensive perspective. Their depth is similar to the Mavericks in the sense they can attack you in waves. The ultimate difference is that the Nuggets do not have a defined closer/superstar.
Portland Trail Blazers (38-29): Mavericks up 2-1 this season, final match-up on April 3 in Portland
The Mavericks hold an all-time record of just 18-45 in Portland. One of the Mavericks' victories over the Trail Blazers came on Jan. 4 with Dirk Nowitzki out of the lineup. Portland averages 12.2 offensive rebounds/game. In the three games against the Mavericks, they have averaged 13.7 offensive rebounds/game. Despite that, Portland only is +2 in rebounds in the three games against the Mavericks. It remains to be seen whether the Brandon Roy the Mavericks saw on Mar. 15 is the one they would see in the playoffs. They do know that LaMarcus Aldridge will be a problem as he has averaged 31.5 points, 9.3 points and shooting 51.4% from the floor against the Mavericks this season.
New Orleans Hornets (40-30): Hornets up 2-1 this season, final match-up on April 13 in Dallas
All three of the match-ups against the Hornets have seen the games go down to the wire. The Mavericks had the ball in Dirk Nowitzki's hands on the final possession in both losses, but he was unable to give Dallas the win in either situation. Chris Paul will give the Mavericks issues, but the law of averages say that New Orleans' success over the Mavericks in the Big Easy should fade away. David West is definitely due for a reality check, so it would be interesting to see the two division rivals match up against each other. The Mavericks offense would be put to the test as New Orleans has been been a top-level defensive team in the league as they hold teams to 93.0 points/game.
Memphis Grizzlies (37-31): Grizzlies up 3-1 this season, no more match-ups in regular season
The lone win for the Mavericks against the Grizzlies came on Nov. 10 in Memphis with a 106-91 victory. Two of the three wins for Memphis came by a combined two points. The other win came on Jan. 15, which was the first game Dirk Nowitzki played while returning from a sprained right knee. He was ejected after 15 minutes worth of action and the Mavericks suffered a 89-70 loss. The front line of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol have given the Mavericks issues. Specifically, Randolph has been a thorn in the side of the Mavericks as he has averaged 24.3 points, 12.7 rebounds and 1.7 steals in the four games against the Mavericks this season. The power forward also shot 61.7% from the field against the Mavericks.
The next Western Conference test for the Mavericks will be on Friday against the San Antonio Spurs. With all of the Lakers-talk over the last week or so, people might have forgotten about the Spurs. By some fluke in the scheduling machine, San Antonio will be well-rested as they will have Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday off before the showdown with the Mavericks. They will be looking to bounce back from their 110-80 loss to the Miami Heat on Mar. 14.
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