Most Mavericks fans predicted this season would end with the team contending for a playoff spot in the final few weeks. The schedule has been up and down since then, but here with are, with Dallas just about where we thought they would be.
This may seem crazy, but Dallas currently possesses the longest active win streak in the league thanks to four straight defensive lockdown victories. These four wins put Dallas in quite a tricky situation: two wins away from fifth seed, one loss away from ninth seed. Here's a look at the team's schedule.
Despite having the best record in the playoff contention battle, the Memphis Grizzlies might not be safest one out there. Fighting off injuries, the Grizzlies entertain the Bulls and Warriors at home in their upcoming five games, and visit the Mavs, Clippers, and Warriors (again).
The Grizzlies are currently on a six game losing streak, mostly due to the injuries, and are suffering badly from them. Their last victory came against the depleted Suns on March 22. In their losing stretch, perhaps the worst loss came against the L.A Lakers, who have the second worst record in the league. If Memphis loses all five games, they could end up 41-41.
Portland, on the other hand, seem destined to snatch that fifth seed away. Their last four games of the season aren't very competitive, as they face three eliminated teams, but also match up against the Thunder. Plus, three of the four games are at home.
Dallas got back on track at the best possible time, even as injuries struck. That, prospectively, came as a golden opportunity for Dallas to focus on the defense more, using defensive rotations with Salah Mejri and starting Justin Anderson. Four consecutive wins don't seem as much in the long run, but at least momentum is on their side.
The Mavericks host Houston next. Dallas' defense, although great during their four-game winning streak, might be asked a lot to hold up against the Rockets. The Mavericks play the Grizzlies next, followed by the Clippers and the Spurs, which could be interesting if either team decides to rest their starters.
Considering the Grizzlies' tough schedule and lack of active players, the Mavs are absolutely still in a fight for the fifth seed. That's not to say they're favored -- they're still 1.5 games behind Portland, and don't have the upper hand concerning scheduling. But anything can happen!
Utah shares some of Dallas' schedule, as they'll battle off the Spurs and Clippers, as well as a crucial game between the two teams in Salt Lake City. However, the Jazz are considerably a young team who can slide against weaker teams, who in their case comes against the Lakers and Nuggets. The Jazz seem most suitable to finish with a .500 record, or just above it.
Houston also has a fairly easy schedule -- their only significant game left is against Dallas. A win against the Mavs will have Dallas sit in ninth seed, if Utah also win. However, Houston recently let some matches against eliminated teams slip out of their grasp. Despite all of that, ‘Clutch City' is currently looking at the playoff standings from the outside, and are a game behind eighth seed. The easy record should work out for the Rockets, but we've at least learned not to trust them this year.
Best-case scenario fifth seed for Dallas: Start with Memphis losing all their games, which is a reasonable prediction. Next, have Portland let teams like the Thunder and the Kings get the better of them. The Mavericks' margin of error becomes about one loss -- let's say the Clippers, while they beat the Spurs on the final night of the season when they rest players. Just keep that momentum flowing.
If Dallas can do that, Utah and Houston's finish to the season doesn't really matter, and won't come into play.
Realistic scenario: Probably the most certain possibility is that Portland takes the fifth seed due to the advantage in scheduling, and the Grizzlies' injuries. Portland, despite the shaky recent games, have been on a hot run in the final few weeks in general, with Damian Lillard leading the charge. As for Dallas, sixth seed may seem the highest they could realistically go.
Surpassing Memphis seems very likely to occur, for both Dallas and Utah...maybe even Houston. The Rockets also don't seem to look at the seedings from the outside for long.
Worst-case scenario: A ninth seed finish, out of the playoffs completely. Lose to Houston on Wednesday, and they'd tumble out of the playoff picture for now. Potential future losses to the rest of the pack could push Dallas even further more down the standings. Let's just hope that doesn't occur. If that does, maybe Memphis will save us by substituting who takes ninth seed and who doesn't.