With Friday's godawful loss to the San Antonio Spurs, the Mavericks only hold a half game lead on the Houston Rockets and have fallen 3.5 games behind the Memphis Grizzlies. Saturday's immediate turnaround against Memphis is yet another example of the Mavericks' terrible schedule leading into the break, but all Dallas can do is play the games in front of them.
The top four seeds in the Western Conference haven't been solidified, but it's concrete in the midday sun drying quick. Golden State has a 3.5-game lead over San Antonio. The Spurs are up 4.5 games on the Thunder. Oklahoma City leads the Clippers by 4.5 games. And Los Angeles has a 3-game edge on Memphis. Those teams don't lose much. It's unlikely there's any movement there by the end of the year unless one of them completely collapses.
Dallas, obviously, wants to finish as high as they can. But the key reason for that is to obtain the best first-round matchup available to them. Is it the Warriors? Hell to the no, no, no. Is it the Spurs? Fun rivalry and Dirk vs. Duncan storylines aside, did you see Friday's game!? It might be Oklahoma City, just because Dallas can play them tough. It's probably the Los Angeles Clippers, though, who Dallas already beat once this year in what was their best win against a team in the Western Conference.
Well, that brings us back to Mavericks' Saturday game against the Memphis Grizzlies. A win would turn Memphis' 3.5-game lead into a 2.5 game one. It would hold off the Houston Rockets from the sixth seed, especially given they have an easier home matchup against the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Mavericks' starters all played well under 30 minutes on Friday. That's the advantage of literally having lost a game at the end of the first quarter. Dirk Nowitzki usually sits out back-to-back, and while Rick Carlisle wouldn't confirm it, he seems more confident that his talks with Casey Smith would yield good news on that front after Dirk ran around just 24 minutes against the Spurs. Deron Williams had 27 minutes in his return and that lead the team. It was a heavy night for morale, but on the workload front, it was somewhat light.
Devin Harris will miss the game once again, and that's not nothing. The team's missing him. Part of it isn't even his presence -- it's just that the Mavericks aren't deep, and his absence means Charlie Villanueva gets minutes, and Villanueva has even turned me against his game on the court after I defended him through the first 20 or 30 games. And that's not to discount Harris totally, either, since his pace-pushing tempo helps a weaker second unit offense score some quick points, and his solid if unspectacular backcourt defense is very useful.
Long post short: the Mavericks really, really need a win unless they want to be sitting in seventh place for nine days over the break. They'll have a chance to catch up with an easier schedule coming out of the All-Star hiatus, but how about they just avoid the situation to start with. We'll see if they can come up big against Memphis, whose won eight of their last 10 games.