This was supposed to be under the premise that the Dallas Mavericks would be the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference by mid April.
Now, we have to start questioning if they'll be six, seven or even eight. The Mavericks are in the midst of spiraling downward into a deep abyss that will devour them slowly if this continues. The 102-96 loss to the Detroit Pistons may have been all that's needed to accept the fact Dallas may not even be in the playoffs this year.
But playing devil's advocate is fun, so let's assume Dallas finds the intestinal fortitude to play good basketball down the stretch and jumps back to No. 6. Waiting for them would either be the Oklahoma City Thunder or the Los Angeles Clippers at the third seed.
As it stands, Dallas isn't beating the Clippers or Thunder in a seven-game series. It would be a miracle if Dallas stole one win against either of these two at this current time. With Rick Carlisle's love for three-guard lineups, there are bound to be mismatches. The last time Oklahoma City and the Mavericks got together, Kevin Durant's primary matchup was Devin Harris, because Chandler Parsons plays a lot of small-ball power forward nowadays and Justin Anderson is a rookie that has been banned from stepping on the court for the remainder of time.
Pick your poison. As fate would have it, the Clippers and Mavericks in a playoff series would have all the storylines and trash talk a casual basketball fan could want. DeAndre Jordan and Chandler Parsons would exchange a plethora of verbal jabs and Chris Paul would face off against J.J. Barea and Devin Harris for 40 minutes a night.
But if the Mavericks want to stay around for longer than four games, the Clippers would be the ideal draw. Blake Griffin is bound to return from his suspension/injury dilemma by the time the playoffs start. While the Clippers will overwhelm Dallas offensively with their usual Blake/DeAndre front court, the Mavericks' best bet is to go small which is what they've tried to perfect in recent games.
And with this Mavericks team, going small can be really good and maddening at the same time. Putting either Dirk Nowitzki or David Lee at center stretches the floor and draws Jordan (and possibly Blake) away from the rim, allowing more chances at the rim for Parsons or the guards. This small ball approach would work especially well for Parsons, who's shooting 62 percent on shots from three feet or less. He's been terrific at attacking the basket this year.
At the other end, though, Lob City will fire bombs from all angles and destroy the Mavericks from within. Think back to the Houston Rockets series last year. Pick and rolls with Josh Smith and Dwight Howard gave Amar'e Stoudemire and Dirk nightmares. The Clippers would do that, if not more.
Check how the Brooklyn Nets defended this absurdity. It's mainly high screens from Jordan and the lobs from Paul with J.J. Redick provided an extra screen, but everyone's focused on Redick and not the obvious roll from Jordan. Dallas will fall victim to this far too easily.
Dallas will go small as much as it can. No matter the opponent, the Mavericks' flaws will be heightened. Russell Westbrook and Durant do as much damage with their backs to the basket than they do while facing up in iso situations. Tiny Dallas guards going against strong, athletic freaks like Durant and Westbrook is a recipe for disaster.
The Mavericks have a better chance to slow the tempo and force the Clippers to run an offense in the halfcourt, but not by much. L.A. has improved in that aspect due to Griffin expanding his range in the pick-and-roll. Griffin has shot 45.8 percent on two-point baskets from 16 feet this season. It's a near 10 percent jump from a year ago.
That's only part of the battle. The other half of it is rebounding, which Dallas just gave up a 20-rebound game to Jordan not too long ago. Someone will be presented with the daunting task of having to box out DeAndre, and they'll likely be six inches shorter.
Maybe Dallas should run the four-guard lineup and Dirk for a whole game. It worked for two minutes against the Denver Nuggets on Sunday.
Long story short, the Mavericks need to find some way to get back on track and even have a chance to face one of these teams. If not, it'll either be the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs or nobody in the first round. For Dallas' sake, perhaps nobody would be a better option.