After a light February, the Mavericks had a much tougher sled of games in March. On March 1st, I wrote that Dallas would probably need to go .500 in order to stay in the playoff hunt. Dallas actually went 8-6, including a few heart breaking losses, and are barely hanging on, tied for 7th with Phoenix.
The Mavericks did better than I expected and it's still not good enough to assure them a playoff spot. That's how insanely tough the West is. Tom Ziller thinks whoever misses the playoffs between Phoenix, Dallas, and Memphis will be the best non-playoff team of the modern era. Dallas is no longer in the driver's seat. Every game matters and the margin for error is non-existent.
With eight games remaining, I'm giving each a difficulty level of Easy, Medium, Hard, and in some cases Very Hard.
Tuesday, April 1st vs the Golden State Warriors - Hard - On the final game of the eight game home stand, the Mavericks face a team that they first beat once in a close game, then lost once in a close game, all before getting slaughtered in the third match up. The Warriors are in good position for the playoffs but will go without Andrew Bogut, who is dealing with a groin injury. The stars are aligned for Dallas to take this one, despite the difficulty of the match up.
Thursday, April 3rd at the Los Angeles Clippers - Very Hard - I hate the Clippers. I feel about this Clippers team the way I used to feel about the Spurs teams in the early 2000's. The only difference is the Clippers haven't won a damn thing, yet continue to carry themselves with the confidence of champions. The Mavericks have been there in all three prior match ups, only to let the game slip away late. Hopefully, being away from home for the first time since March 16th will help focus the Mavericks enough to steal a road victory against a top team in the West, but even that's a long shot.
Friday, April 4th at the Los Angeles Lakers - Easy - The Lakers have no incentive to win, but the team is composed of such a hodge-podge cast of characters that they're capable of anything. I certainly expect Dallas to win, despite it being a road back-to-back, but fans should be prepared for anything. After that Kings game Saturday, I know I am.
Sunday, April 6th at the Sacramento Kings - Medium - The Kings have a bad record, but they cause match up problems for Dallas because they're young, athletic, and DeMarcus Cousins is a force of nature. They'd like nothing better than to spoil the playoff plans of Dallas. If the Mavericks aren't focused, the Kings could punch them in the mouth and run away with the game like they did in the first match up way back in December.
Tuesday, April 8th at the Utah Jazz - Easy - This is the last game of the season I expect Dallas to win with ease. The Jazz have talent and a great deal of youth. That combination can cause problems for the Mavericks, but with the finish line in sight I expect Dallas to be focused and to run away with this game. That it's the final game in a road trip is a bit concerning, but I expect the Mavericks to overcome any obstacles.
Thursday, April 10th vs the San Antonio Spurs - Very Hard - Have you seen the Spurs lately? They have won SEVENTEEN IN A ROW to boost their record to 57-16. It's just mayhem and destruction, and they've beat the crap out of the Mavericks in two of three match ups this season. The third game was close, but the Spurs weren't at full strength. It's possible they are resting guys, but I think no matter who they play, the Spurs destroy the Mavericks. They're simply too disciplined for their bad defense.
Saturday, April 12th vs the Phoenix Suns - Hard - This is a massively important game. Since the teams only play one another three times this season, there's a tie breaker on the line, which could play a role in determining who makes the playoffs. The Suns ran Dallas off the floor in one match up, while the Mavericks beat Phoenix in a close game the second time. With the Suns at full strength and fighting for a playoff spot, the Mavericks need to be at their best defensively to win.
Wednesday April 16th at the Memphis Grizzlies - Hard - It's hard to predict this one, because it could mean everything, but two weeks from now the playoff picture could be much clearer and it could instead mean nothing. Dallas already owns the tiebreaker with the Grizzlies, having won all three prior games this season. The Grizzlies are actually a pretty good match up for the Mavericks, as their top flight offense has overwhelmed the strong Memphis defense.
Gah. Looking at this schedule again, it's every bit of a murderer's row it looked like it could be back in October. The Mavericks need to go 6-2 to give themselves a strong shot at making the playoffs. Anything short of that, even if it's just 5-3, could leave them on the outside looking in. They start the month with 44 wins under their belt and the magic number of 50 might very well be what propels them over the finish line.