2011 NBA Playoff Picture: Mavs In Danger Of Losing Third Seed

The Dallas Mavericks are stumbling a bit at the finish line, but the playoffs are quickly approaching. Here is a look at the Mavs' playoff picture with just a few games remaining.

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NBA Playoff Picture: Mavericks Could Take Second Seed From Lakers

At 55-25, the Dallas Mavericks have tied the Los Angeles Lakers for the Western Conference’s second playoff seed. Because L.A. is a division winner and Dallas is not, the Lakers own the tiebreaker over the Mavericks at the moment. However, the Mavs can seize control of the second seed if they finish with a record outright better than Los Angeles’.

To do that, the Mavericks need to win their remaining two games and the Lakers have to lose at least once. Dallas’ schedule includes a visit to Houston (Monday evening) and a home date against New Orleans (Wednesday). The Mavericks are 3-0 against the Rockets and 1-2 against the Hornets so far this season.

The Lakers, meanwhile, host the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday, then fly to Sacramento to visit the Kings in what could be the last NBA game ever played in California’s capital. L.A. is 1-2 against the Spurs and 2-1 versus the Kings. Notably, the Lakers have lost five straight games, their longest skid since they lost seven straight from March 2nd-15th, 2007.

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NBA Playoffs 2011: Denver Nuggets' George Karl Prefers Facing Dallas Mavericks

The Dallas Mavericks, losers of four straight games, have slipped in the Western Conference standings and, as we pointed out Thursday, may fall from third to fourth in the playoff bracket. That would suit the fifth-seeded Denver Nuggets just fine, if you ask their head coach. Indeed, George Karl would rather his club face the Mavericks than the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“If we had to pick and choose on [our preferred playoff opponent], we would probably say 55 percent Dallas, 45 percent Oklahoma City, only because Oklahoma City is athletic like we are and they have two great players,” Karl said.

Generally, coaches and players in professional sports like to avoid saying they prefer facing a given team in the postseason. They’d rather not give anyone they slight any motivation.

Karl frames his remarks as complimenting Oklahoma City and respecting the problems their personnel present the Nuggets. But it’s hard to read what he said and come away without acknowledging the Mavericks aren’t at feared now as they were when they started the year with a 24-5 record.

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NBA Playoff Picture: Mavericks Clinging To Third Seed

Wednesday’s NBA action kept the Dallas Mavericks in line to finish third in the Western Conference, but changed the possible identity of their playoff opponent. The New Orleans Hornets moved into the sixth position, setting the stage—if only temporarily—for a Mavericks/Hornets first-round playoff tilt. Previously, the Portland Trail Blazers owned the sixth seed.

This development is an interesting one for Dallas, which has lost two of three to the Hornets this year. The teams meet again on the final night of the season, which may give Dallas a say in who it plays in the first round. If it happens that next Wednesday’s game determines the sixth seed in the West—and there’s no guarantee it will—then the Mavericks can use that information to decide how seriously to take the game. They went 2-2 against Portland this season and may prefer that matchup.

However, that analysis presupposes the Mavericks will finish with the third seed, which is not a given. The Oklahoma City Thunder stand just one game behind Dallas, and if the teams finish with identical records, then Oklahoma City will earn the higher seed by virtue of winning its division; the Mavericks’ 2-1 record head-to-head versus the Thunder would not come into play.

The Mavericks are slipping, having lost four in a row and five of their last 10 games. The Thunder, meanwhile, have gone 7-3 in the same span.

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2011 NBA Playoff Picture: Mavs Would Host Blazers If Season Ended Today

The 2011 NBA playoff picture for the Dallas Mavericks is pretty cut and dry considering they've already clinched a playoff berth and are out of the running to win the Southwest Division (San Antonio locked that up a few games back), but there are still plenty of reasons to follow their games right up to next Wednesday's finale.

Over the course of the next week, Dallas will have the opportunity to potentially play spoiler to three other teams trying to settle into playoff spots of their own as the Denver Nuggets -- Wednesday's opponent -- are still attempting to make it into the top four of the Western Conference and neither the New Orleans Hornets or Houston Rockets have been able to secure their ticket to the NBA playoffs quite yet.

In fact, the season finale against the Hornets could become a preview of the Mavericks' first round match-up if things fall into place because New Orleans trails the Portland Trail Blazers -- Dallas' current first round opponent -- by just one game in the standings. For a closer look, check out NBA.com's Playoff Picture.

Regardless, Dallas is going to the playoffs and tickets are already available.

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