It's not likely the Dallas Mavericks will miss the playoffs, but it's certainly possible.
Currently, the Mavericks are 29-22, good for No. 5 in the West. Houston is No. 9, a half-game behind Utah and Denver. I haven't looked it up, but I'm guessing all three of those teams don't have games remaining against Miami, Orlando, the Lakers, the Clippers and Chicago.
So yes, it's possible. How did it happen? It isn't that the Mavs haven't more or less consistently been one of the top five teams in the West, and there's no question that they have been top eight, for all their struggles. Still, NBA schedules are a mix of good teams and bad teams, and we basically expect that the good teams will beat the bad teams and go halfsies with each other.
The Mavericks, who have wins this season again San Antonio and OKC, would seem to have the tiebreak on Denver, Utah and Phoenix, and can clinch it against the Rockets tonight, can beat any team any night. But they have been absolutely brutal against bad teams.
After a scorching January in which they lost only to the Wolves and the Los Angeles teams, the Mavericks have lost to Golden State, Sacramento, New Orleans, New Jersey, and Cleveland who collectively are boasting an 82-160 record on the season. That's the teams with the three worst records in the West, and they were two close victories over the Bobcats and Warriors from doing the same in the East.
This is not, overall, the end of the world .When you think about it, terrible teams tend to have a lot of athletes, and the Mavericks haven't won a loose ball since the Great Depression. They've also tended to lose, when they're losing, in streaks and win in streaks too, which means that they, like everyone else, could stilll get hot in time for the playoffs.
Then again, 15 games isn't much, but it's still time enough, and more, to make up a one game deficit, should they need to.
Here is the Mavs future, in a nutshell:
The good news is they have a great opportunity to help themselves. The Clippers are a game ahead of the Mavericks, Utah and Houston a game behind. They play the Clips on Monday, Memphis twice and Utah and Houston one more time. The bad news is, of course, that they also have a lot of chances, there to hurt themselves.
The good news is, Haywood and Delonte West are slowly coming back, the bad news is they haven't already come back and will need to be re-integrated and we still don't know what to do with Lamar Odom and we had all kind of wished the lineups would be clear by now. I mean, yeah, Haywood is going back to starting center. But what do Delonte, Roddy, Vince and Lamar have to do with each other? You'd have hoped it would be clear right now.
The Mavs have four games coming up against Golden State and Portland. Although Golden State did beat them pretty convincingly, they are not only not a good team but though their trade of Monta Ellis for Andrew Bogut was basically even, the major difference is that Monta Ellis is currently playing for the Bucks and Bogut is watching his new team in an extra-large suit. And the Blazers are in full-on rebuilding mode.
Then again, with things so close, you'd kinda wish you had four games against the Heat-Lakers-Bulls of the world and the rest of them against the Blazers and Warriors, rather than the other way around.
Then again, if you want to win a championship, or at least make a dent in the playoffs, you'd better be able to beat good teams anyway.
In short: The Mavericks are no better than they deserve. I cut them some slack for management sending away their team's framework and for a schedule that uniquely punishes older teams, but slack doesn't put more wins in the win column. They're in a position where they'll have to play well, most nights, to be assured of a playoff spot.
And so they should be. Basketball time....
For more of Andy's coverage of the defending NBA champions, check out Mavs Moneyball.