It all comes down to Los Angeles. Of course it does. After a brutal 11 game stretch, the Mavericks head out on the road for their final trip of the season to LA, Denver, Sacramento and Portland.
For weeks, every game Dallas has played has felt like a must win. On March 11th I wrote:
This is the schedule of Dallas over the next 13 games: the Bucks, Cavaliers, Spurs, Thunder, Hawks, Nets, Celtics, Jazz, Clippers, Pacers, Bulls, Lakers, Nuggets. One team under .500 with only two of the thirteen opponents not making the playoffs. The Mavs have some hope as only five of these 13 are on the road, but I can only see five to eight games Dallas has a real chance of winning.
The Mavericks were on fire the month of March, having the franchise's third best shooting month in the history of the organization. 11 games into this brutal stretch, Dallas is 7-4, ready to tie and surpass my prediction from 3 weeks ago.
So what do we say about this game against the Lakers in Los Angeles? If they don't win, it would take a miracle for Dallas to make the playoffs. Despite the Lakers having a tough road to finish the season, it's actually Utah who has the best chance to head to the post season, with tie breakers over both LA and Dallas and the easiest schedule.
A must win, on the road, against the Lakers after a week with two of the most exciting wins of the season for the Mavericks against the Clippers and Bulls. The Lakers have dealt with injuries all season; now that Pau Gasol is back, former Maverick Steve Nash is considered doubtful with a hamstring issue. Metta World Peace is effectively out for the season after tearing his meniscus. That leaves coach Mike D'Antoni with an even thinner bench than usual.
However, the Lakers still boast the aforementioned Gasol, all universe shooting guard Kobe Bryant, who is playing his best basketball in years, and Dwight Howard, who finally, finally looks like a dominating center after a mostly futile year.
The Mavericks handled LA on opening day, but have lost the two most recent match ups. Dirk Nowitzki is playing like a man possessed, and his teammates are feeding off his play (imagine that). Heck, even the mighty Mike James is talking about playing two more years (with Dallas. Oh God no. Why? Let's hope that was an April Fool's Joke).
In order to win tonight, the Mavericks must contain Howard on the boards, force Bryant into tough shots, and take advantage of times when the Lakers do not have all three super stars on the floor. A big game from Mayo would be nice, but is not needed. The ball must go to Dirk early and often. Dallas can win this game. Heck, Dallas should win this game.
They still might not make the playoffs. That's okay. These last few weeks have been fun. A lot of fun, actually. And fun wasn't a word we associated with last season or the first half of this one. Maybe things won't turn out like we want them to, but you can count on the fact that this team will not go quietly.
See you all tonight in the game thread!