The Mavs have gone 7-3 over their last 10 games, pushing their record to 43-29 and putting themselves in a position to make a run at a 50-win season. Before last night's games, they were in a tie for 7th place with the Grizzlies and only 1/2 game ahead of the Suns in 9th place. After the Suns and Grizzlies won Wednesday night, the Mavs are essentially in 9th place, tied with the Suns but with the Suns in 8th on tiebreakers.
Such is life in the Western Conference.
With only 10 games left in the season, it is down to the stretch run. Every game counts in the race
to get massacred by the Spurs for the No. 8 seed. We know what the Mavs are about and what their schedule looks like over the next week -- so now it's time to break down their two biggest competitors.
After dealing with a transition to a new coach and wave after wave of injuries, last season's Western Conference Finalists have found their footing in the last month. Memphis is 10-3 in the month of March and they have not lost in the Grindhouse in since a 110-96 loss to Dallas in early February. They are coming off a really impressive two-game home-stand where they beat the tar out of Indiana and Minnesota, jumping out to early leads and then suffocating them with defense.
While their record doesn't show it, Memphis is a deeper and more improved team than last season. They still have Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph upfront and Mike Conley running the show, but they've quietly added a bunch of nice pieces to their supporting cast - Courtney Lee, Mike Miller, James Johnson, Kosta Koufos. Unlike last year's group, they can beat you with defense or beat you with offense.
Their next four games:
at Golden State (Friday)
at Portland (Sunday)
at Denver (Monday)
at Minnesota (Wednesday)
This is a make or break road trip for the Grizzlies. There are no gimmes on a West Coast trip, but they aren't facing any of the elite teams in the conference either. And while they only have one back-to-back, it's a doozy, going from the Pacific Northwest to the altitude of Denver. For Memphis, the goal on this trip is probably 3-1. This will probably be the Mavs best chance to make up ground on them going forward, with the exception of their home date against Dallas on the last day of the season.
Phoenix has been the surprise team out West all season. They looked like they had a chance to make a run at the Pacific Division crown when Eric Bledsoe went down with a knee injury. Instead, they managed to tread water thanks to an offensive explosion from Goran "The Dragon" Dragic and Gerald Green. Now, with Bledsoe back in the fold, they are gearing themselves up for a push to get back into the playoffs.
They are 6-2 since Bledsoe came back into the line-up. The good news for them was they were able to ease him back into the rotation during an East Coast road trip, so they didn't lose too much ground while the rest of the team adjusted to their new roles with Bledsoe back. They are like a younger and more athletic version of the Mavs -- they don't play a ton of defense, but they push the pace, shoot the three and get buckets in a hurry.
Their next four games:
vs. New York (Friday)
at LA Lakers (Sunday)
vs. LA Clippers (Wednesday)
at Portland (Friday)
They have a relatively easy stretch coming up, as they don't have another road trip longer than 3 games the rest of the season. The game against Washington last night, a win, saw Bledsoe square off against his old Kentucky teammate John Wall. Coming up, they have a home date vs Bledsoe's old team, the Clippers, and a road date against a Portland team they've owned all season, even before the Blazers recent slide.
There's no rest for the weary in the Western Conference. If the Mavs want to make the playoffs, they had better keep winning, because looking at the coming schedules -- the Suns and the Grizzlies aren't going away.