The Western Conference is having a really bizarre year. In the last two seasons, every team that made the playoffs won at least 50 games with the exception of the No. 8 seed. It's a been a bloodbath in the West over the past few years, while the East has been the weak one.
The tables have turned this season. The top nine teams in the East all have winning records, and the No. 10 Knicks are just a game under .500 at 20-21.
The West, meanwhile, has seven teams with winning records. The Utah Jazz are currently hanging on to the No. 8 seed at 17-21, which would make them No. 13 if they were in the East.
Of course, the Warriors and Spurs are head and shoulders above everyone, already combining for 70 wins and just nine losses, but overall the West has taken a step back this season. Where do the Mavs fit into this, and how might a weaker West help them come playoff time?
Despite consecutive losses, the Mavericks sit at 22-18 in the West, which currently gives them the fifth seed. Of course it's too early to know what the playoff picture will actually bring, but we're halfway through the season and it's certainly worth checking out. Dallas is currently 4.5 games back of the Clippers for fourth and that coveted home court advantage, as Los Angeles has begun to pull away with a 10-game winning streak. In front of them is the Thunder, Spurs and Warriors, who all seem more or less locked into the top tier of the division.
Behind Dallas is the Grizzlies, Rockets and Jazz. Unless the Kings or Blazers make a run at Utah -- they're 2.0 and 2.5 games back, respectively, but Utah recently got Rudy Gobert back from injury -- this appears to be our Western Conference playoff field.
Dallas will likely finish with the fifth or sixth seed, but we can't rule out a run to grab the fourth or a collapse to fall to seventh. Either way, it appears there are three possible first round playoff opponents for Dallas as it stands now.
I don't see the Mavs falling all the way the No. 8, and it's tough right now seeing the Warriors lose the top seed. So, thankfully, the Mavs should avoid the sentient machine that is Stephen Curry in the first round.
The Mavs have a chance at facing the Spurs if their tough schedule gets the best of them and they fall to seventh. Kawhi Leonard has been phenomenal while LaMarcus Aldridge seems to have fit in just fine. Leonard, Aldridge along with Tim Duncan would provide all kinds of issues for Dallas' frontcourt. It's an ugly matchup for Dallas, but one Dallas can avoid.
The Thunder or Clippers are the more likely opponents Dallas might have to deal with.
Out of those two, the Thunder seem to be the worse matchup considering Kevin Durant is back and Russell Westbrook is still a cyborg. An athletic power forward like Serge Ibaka usually causes Dallas all kinds of trouble, while the Thunder also still have its center combo of Enes Kanter and Steven Adams.
The Clippers, on the other hand, are a much more tantalizing and juicy matchup. Up until this recent run, Los Angeles hasn't exactly looked like the contender many expecting them to be after convincing DeAndre Jordan to stay in Los Angeles, but have played well recently without Blake Griffin. We've seen Dallas play the Clippers twice this season: one was the second game of the season when Dallas rested some guys and the other was Jordan's first game in Dallas after the summer's debacle.
The Mavs won that last game thanks to a classic Dirk night and Wesley Matthews' first great game of the season. Dallas didn't have Chandler Parsons in either game, and I'd like to see what it looks like when they do.
Dallas has a huge advantage on the wings over the Clippers with Parsons and Matthews. The shooting guard and small forward positions have been the Clippers' weak point since Doc Rivers took the helm, and it's something Dallas can exploit. Zaza Pachulia is outmatched athletically against Jordan, but he held his own the last time these two met. There really isn't a good answer for Blake Griffin, but of course, Dallas is going to have to give up some mismatches somewhere..
The hope then is that Deron Williams, Devin Harris and the rest of the Mavs' guards can at least contain Chris Paul. Plus, the emotional factor of this series can't be overlooked. There's no way Dallas has forgotten about the Jordan disaster in the summer, and will surely be ready to show that in a seven-game series. Remember how pumped the crowd was in Jordan's first game in Dallas? Now, picture that in a playoff game. That alone might be able to help Dallas steal a win.
It's super early, but with how set the playoff picture seems, it's interesting to see what the Mavs may draw. It's tough to see Dallas being favored in any series they play, but seven games against Clippers would just be outstanding entertainment.