Mavs-Centric Update On West Playoff Race

When Doc Rivers was asked about the bottom of the West where the fifth through ninth seeds were separated by just two games and the eight and ninth seeds were 13 games over .500 coming into Thursday night's game, he responded, 'I came to the West. I must be the dumbest guy in the room. I could have stayed in the East. The West is a monster.'

Coach Rivers' team, however, has the luxury of having played themselves into an almost certain playoff spot. The Dallas Mavericks are not in such a position. Dallas has found itself in the midst of one of the most competitive playoff races in recent memory. With just nine games left to play the Mavericks could in theory be the fifth seed -- yes, really! -- or could miss out on the postseason altogether ... with anything in between remaining a possibility.

With so many different teams to watch and everything shifting so rapidly, it's hard to keep track of it all. So decided to fill you in on how things look at the moment.

Coming into Thursday's game:

(Starting with the fifth seed, the most realistic aspiration for Dallas)

5. Portland Trail Blazers

6. Golden State Warriors: .5 games back of Portland

7. Memphis Grizzlies: 1.5 games back of Portland

8. Phoenix Suns: 2 games back of Portland

9. Dallas Mavericks: 2 games back of Portland (outside of the playoff picture)

Of these five teams it's the Suns who are playing the best basketball, having won five straight ... and the Blazers who have struggled the most, recently finding themselves in a race that they likely thought they would be avoiding a month ago. The Blazers had lost seven of their last 10 and three straight coming into Thursday.

At 43-29 the Mavericks had the exact same record as the Suns, but Phoenix owns the tiebreaker between the two teams.

As dark turns to the light of Friday morning:

Thursday night was a rare instance when the order of those five teams in the standings did not change. Only two of them actually took the court. The Blazers managed to buy themselves a little bit of breathing room and the Mavericks, well, they helped give the Blazers (and the Suns and the Grizzlies and the Warriors) a little bit of breathing room.

5. Portland Trail Blazers

6. Golden State Warriors: 1 game back of Portland

7. Memphis Grizzlies: 2 games back of Portland

8. Phoenix Suns: 2.5 games back of Portland

9. Dallas Mavericks: 3 games back of Portland and .5 behind Phoenix (outside of the playoff picture).

How big was the Mavericks' 109-103 loss to the Clippers? Well, the standings are so close that had Dallas managed to win Thursday night they would have actually jumped both Phoenix and Memphis in the standings (Dallas owns the tiebreaker over Memphis). Instead they find themselves in sole possession of the ninth spot in the West standings.

The Blazers, on the other hand, ended their losing streak by beating the Atlanta Hawks 100-85. LaMarcus Aldridge returned from a back injury to lead the team with 25 points and 16 rebounds.

Going Forward….

Portland next three games: at Chicago, versus Memphis, at LA Lakers

Golden State next three games: versus Memphis, versus New York, at Dallas.

Dallas next three games: versus Sacramento, versus Golden State, at LA Clippers.

Memphis next three games: at Golden State, at Portland, at Denver

Phoenix next three games: versus New York, at LA Lakers, versus LA Clippers

Two months ago, it seemed like Portland would have a top-four seed locked up in just a matter of time. Even with a win on Thursday night, they are still no lock to make the playoffs. Portland has played above-.500 basketball since January 1st, but the West is just so competitive that above-.500 is not quite good enough to keep four other teams off their tail.

The beauty (or terror) of this race is that basically any game on any given night by any one of these five teams will be as significant as Thursday's game was for the Mavericks. The loss to the Clippers was the difference between the seventh spot and the ninth spot for the time being. Those types of swings will apply to these five teams on a nightly basis, perhaps for the rest of the season.

We have no idea how the last nine games are going to play out, but it's probably a safe bet to say that these standings won't look exactly the same a week from now. The truth is that these five teams could finish in virtually any order.

And if this stuff isn't already dramatic enough for you then we'd like to remind you that the Mavericks' final two games of the season are versus Phoenix and at Memphis.

Full coverage of the game is coming all night and all morning with All-Access Donuts, including Video Visits from inside the Mavs locker room.

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