1. As of the time of writing this question, the Mavericks have fallen to ninth place in the Western Conference. What scenario needs to happen for them to make it into the playoffs?
Tim Cato (@tim_cato): A backcourt that finds a steady groove. Somehow, someway, the trio of Jose Calderon, Monta Ellis and Devin Harris need to find equilibrium, assuming a role that allows the offense to thrive. The defense doesn't have to be perfect, but it has to be good enough to give Dallas a shot to outscore the opponent. Carlisle's handling of the three players will be important, too.
Kirk Henderson (@KirkSeriousFace): They have to go on a bit of a streak in February. Their schedule, excluding the Pacers and Heat games, is loaded with teams that are either struggling or very beatable. March and April are loaded with playoff bound teams, and if Dallas wants to hold on to a playoff chance, they need to give themselves a bigger margin for error than what they currently have. Padding their win totals would go a long way.
Doyle Rader (@TheKobeBeef): Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling! Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes and volcanos! The dead rising from the grave! Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together. Basically, an impending apocalypse at the hands of Gozer is what has to happen for them to make the playoffs. That, or, you know, playing coherent defense for more than three seconds (an obvious exaggeration) a game. A win streak of more than two or three games would also be nice.
Andrew Tobolowsky (@andytobo): Not all that much. We keep focusing on who has more talent, who's better, etc. But if that were all that we needed to know, there'd be no point in playing the games. Schedule strength is an issue, as well as injuries, fatigue, luck in close games. Maybe the Suns fall apart a bit, maybe Marc Gasol gets injured again. Or maybe Devin Harris means the Mavs are just better than one of those guys after all. We don't know, so we'd better watch.
Alan Smithee (@SmitheeMMB): Devin Harris has come back and played well, which should allow Carlisle more options to find the best guard rotation over time. So that's one thing. Finding consistent center play might be more difficult. Beyond that, I suppose I would say that one of the teams ahead of them needs to slow down a bit. The most likely choice might be Phoenix, who continues to play really, really well despite an ostensibly inferior roster (even with Bledsoe out). I continue to believe Dallas will be as aggressive as possible at the trade deadline, if not only for this season, then for the next one. Realistically, the competition in the West won't get easier going forward.
2. If you were given the choice of the eighth or ninth seed in the West, which would you take?
Tim: My head says the ninth seed, both for the future and for the trade chip it could provide. But my heart is more selfish, and I want to see the Mavericks and Dirk in the playoffs once again. I want to cover a playoff game. I want to make that four hour drive up to Oklahoma City. So I guess it's a win-win either way?
Kirk: I still see no real value in making the playoffs other than being able to say Dallas made the playoffs...although I do want to see Dirk in the playoffs again. I'm pretty conflicted. The difference in draft pick would be pretty substantial, too, probably something like 12th to 14th, as opposed to 20th or 21st if they make the playoffs. Our fans have all been conditioned by the front office to disregard the draft, but the new CBA has the unintended consequence of putting a disproportionately high value on talent developed in house. If the Mavs want trade assets that people actually want, it's going to have to start with the draft.
Doyle: The eighth seed is fine. It extends the season for at least four more games, two of them which will be at home. That will make the fans happy and the organization will rake in a considerable amount of money on those games. However, what is the long term benefit of being bounced from the playoffs in the first round? Any other scenario is almost unfathomable. Dallas cannot compete with the likes of the Thunder. The playoffs are essentially the carrot that the organization is dangling in front of the fans. "Hey look! We made the playoffs! We're so close to getting back to contention!" They aren't. Perhaps another long summer will shake them awake. Probably not though.
Andrew: I think I'm okay either way. I love watching Dirk this year. I'm going to miss him so much when he's gone, and I'm not interested in a rebuild until he feels like he's done in his own time. The worst case would be them getting the eight seed and not getting a draft pick -- which is possible because of how awful the East is -- but I feel like people are doing math that looks like great draft + decent draft pick = good, whereas you still have to factor in that it's the Mavs drafting. Do you trust them not to trade out of range of really good players? Do you trust them not to try to accumulate late round picks? If I thought the Mavs were getting the 12th pick in a loaded draft, I'd rather 12. But who knows with these guys? And, look, never forget to be a fan. If they make the playoffs, get excited about the playoffs.
Alan: This is a good question. I can buy the argument that for the players that a winning culture has value. Subjectively, I certainly wouldn't mind seeing Dirk get another go in the playoffs. That all being said, however, the truth is that this team is extremely unlikely to win a playoff series, let alone contend for a championship, and having a draft pick might at least provide them an asset to help bridge the rather large gap there. In the end, we'll just have to let whatever happens happen.
3. Give me the odds -- what are the chances the Mavericks make the playoffs this season?
Tim: I'm actually leaning for them someone getting in down the stretch ever so slightly, so I'll say 55%. Don't count Dirk out.
Kirk: I'd say 50%, unless they do a trade to shake things up. The squad isn't built to hold a lead and the schedule is really tough. That said, I believe in Dirk's ability to be so much better than everyone else that it may not matter.
Andrew: Well, the Mavs playoff odds say 40%, and then 40% for Minny, 47% for Memphis and 83% for Phoenix. My instinct is that what the Mavs need is for Phoenix's weaknesses -- which certainly exist -- to start showing up more. No one's saying that this point in the season they're not legit, but they're still relying pretty exclusively on their offense (6th in the league), they have an average defense (16th), averaging rebounding (13th) and are really bad at sharing the ball (30th). So if those weaknesses start to show up a little more, the Mavs can make the playoffs and if they don't they probably can't. I say 45%.
Doyle: I was never too good at math. Dallas needs to improve in a lot of areas. Their chances are slim but not impossible. Memphis is surging, Phoenix is running and gunning, and Minnesota and Denver are nipping at the Mavericks' heels. Who knows what will happen. I certainly don't. What are their odds? They'll be the odd man out where the playoffs are concerned...maybe.
Alan: Odds-making isn't my strong suit. I'll say 45%; almost a completely arbitrary number. Though it gets harder and harder to say that Phoenix is playing over their heads, I remain somewhat skeptical of them, and depending on how the Eric Bledsoe injury situation plays out, I could still see them falling out. Not if they keep beating the Pacers twice in one week, obviously.