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The Mavericks can still make the playoffs, but they won’t

A lot of things need to go right for Dallas to get back into the playoffs this year.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Portland Trail Blazers Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

Here’s the thing. I’m already set on the Dallas Mavericks having a bad season. I’m even set for them to bottom out the rest of the year, get a top-five draft pick and usher in a new era of Mavericks basketball.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the Mavericks are ready for that, and we can’t blame them.

Something weird is happening in the Western Conference, though. Despite sitting at 8-21 alongside the Phoenix Suns in the basement of the West, Dallas is still in playoff contention. Thanks to their 96-95 win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday, the Mavericks are four games back of the No. 8 spot as of December 22. This is unthinkable for a multitude of reasons — the biggest being Dallas, without Dirk Nowitzki and playing a corpse of a roster through the first quarter of this season, still has the postseason in sight.

This is remarkable. It doesn’t mean it will happen.

The No. 8 seed is the only spot in reach

This logjam in the West from Nos. 8-15 is fun to watch, but that’s the only spot these teams below .500 are able to grab at the current moment.

Portland, Sacramento and Denver are all tied for eighth. They trail the No. 7-seed Oklahoma City Thunder by five games. By January, that gap should widen with fringe playoff teams fighting for that last spot.

No soul in the Dallas-Fort Worth area would rest easy if this Mavericks team had to face the Golden State Warriors in the first round. The five-game annihilation from OKC last year would pale into comparison to what the Bay Area Bombers would do to them. Hint: It would not be pretty, blood would spill and babies would cry. We can’t have that.

Somewhere, somehow, the Mavericks must be thinking of any possible way to avoid the Warriors at all costs. Let the Cleveland Cavaliers deal with them in June.

The injury bug is concerning

J.J. Barea made his return to the lineup December 19 after missing a month with a strained calf. He’s played well in limited action, but left Wednesday’s game with a sore Achilles. He’s Dallas’ best pick-and-roll guard and shot creator. If he can’t stay healthy, Dallas’ offense takes a dip, as seen over the last month.

Dirk is still nursing an Achilles injury, although signs point to his return sooner rather than later. The Big German has played only five games this season but hasn’t played since November 25.

Deron Williams has been stellar the past five games, averaging 18.7 points and nearly seven assists, but his injury history has to be considered at all times. He’s missed eight games already with a calf injury.

Then there’s Andrew Bogut’s knee injury to pile onto that, and this is the song that never ends. It goes on and on, my friends.

Dallas needs a stroke of luck to stay consistently healthy, but that doesn’t look likely right now.

There’s just not enough in the tank offensively

Harrison Barnes has been a godsend. Wesley Matthews has played out of his slump and is playing some of his best basketball since joining Dallas.

Seth Curry. Dorian Finney-Smith. The list goes on regarding bright spots on this team.

But outside of Barnes — with the jury still out on Dirk — there’s not enough offensively for Dallas to make a playoff run.

The Mavericks are dead last in scoring at 94.2 points per game. To raise this number somewhat, you’re asking Matthews and Williams to continue this recent scoring tear they’re both on. That’s not automatic. Dirk is the wild card, but he needs to get on the floor first.

If the playoffs are in reach, Dallas could surely make a move at the trade deadline for some much-needed scoring help if there are suitable options available. But the chances of finding that kind of addition, given Dallas’ situation, are not likely.

Dallas’ defense — more specifically, their sixth-best scoring defense in the NBA — is going to keep them in the hunt for some wins, but that’s tough to sustain through this long season.

There’s a chance. A very slim one. But the Mavericks will miss out on the playoffs, and it’s probably for the best.