The Dallas Mavericks loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday guaranteed the Mavericks would have a losing season for the first time since 2019, Luka Doncic’s rookie season. Despite that, the Mavericks still aren’t mathematically eliminated from the play-in tournament. Here’s a final update on the standings and scenarios before the Mavericks start their final stretch of the season Wednesday against the Sacramento Kings.
First things first: let’s take a look at the standings as of Tuesday morning.
Dallas cannot win more than 40 games this season. The Mavericks are 37-42 with three games left. That means any team with 41 wins is out of the Mavericks reach, so scratch off any remote possibility fans might have had of catching the Clippers or Warriors.
The Mavericks also can pass the Pelicans outright, but it’s highly improbable: the teams split the season series, so the tiebreaker falls to division record, then conference record. New Orleans has three more conference games left, including one division game. So for Dallas to pass New Orleans, the Pelicans would have to lose out (0-4), with one of the four being a loss to Memphis, while the Mavericks would have to win out. That would tie the two teams in division record, and the Mavericks would have 29 conference wins compared to the Pelicans 28.
A similar scenario exists for the Lakers: they have to lose out (0-4) and the Mavericks have to win out. Dallas owns the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Lakers. Unfortunately the Lakers play Utah twice, who are shutting down key players like starting rookie center Walker Kessler. Don’t count on the Mavericks passing the Lakers or Pelicans.
That leaves the Timberwolves and Thunder. Minnesota has to lose out (0-3) and the Mavericks have to win out to pass the Wolves, who also own the head-to-head tiebreaker against the Mavericks. Minnesota plays San Antonio in one of its final three, so that’s another improbable scenario.
The Thunder are the most realistic to catch. There are two paths: Thunder go 1-2 and the Mavericks win out (3-0) or the Thunder go 0-3 and the Mavericks just have to go 2-1. OKC also doesn’t have nearly as easy a schedule as the other teams ahead of the Mavericks: the Thunder play at Golden State Tuesday (where the Warriors are 32-8 at home), then at Utah and home against Memphis. Depending on Memphis’ standing in that game, that could mean the Thunder are playing two games against teams with nothing to lose, but really I think you can only look at that Utah game as a possible sure-thing. And if we’ve learned anything from the NBA this season, nothing is a sure thing — the Thunder have recent losses to Charlotte and Indiana, and Minnesota just recently lost to a Portland team that has shut down just about all its major rotation players.
Of course, this means the Mavericks, no matter who they want to catch, have to win at least two of its final three games. For a team that has currently lost seven of its last eight, that doesn’t seem likely. The last time the Mavericks won two out of three games, the two wins were an overtime win against the Spurs and a miracle Maxi Kleber buzzer beater against the Lakers — not exactly confidence inspiring wins. Dallas plays Sacramento on Wednesday, Chicago on Friday, and San Antonio to close the season on Sunday. The Thunder play two games before Dallas will tip off Friday against Chicago, so their fate my already be sealed by the weekend. That’s not even getting into the fact that Dallas might sit Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving for the final three games. Let’s see what happens.