The Dallas Mavericks picked the wrong time to go into a slide.
Portland lost three games during the week. Memphis ended the week with a loss to Phoenix. And Dallas was unable to make up ground, or create some breathing room, after a 1-2 week. Tough weeks lie ahead for the Grizzles, Mavs and Trail Blazers, as we profile the race ahead for the Western Conference teams in the Nos. 4-9 spots entering the final 20 games of the regular season.
What awaits Dallas and the other second-tier playoff chasers in the West?
4. Los Angeles Clippers (40-21 as of Sunday night, 2 1/2 games behind Oklahoma City; 3 1/2 games ahead of Memphis)
Last week: def. Brooklyn, 105-95; def. Oklahoma City, 103-98; lost to Atlanta, 107-97.
This week: at Dallas (Monday), at Oklahoma City (Wednesday), vs. New York (Friday), vs. Cleveland (Sunday).
Status: Third place is nearly an open race. Entering Sunday's game, Oklahoma City had lost six of eight games, including two to Golden State and one to the Clippers. You really have to hand it to the Clips. With no Blake Griffin and no Austin Rivers they're finding a way to make it work. The Clippers are 23-7 without Griffin.
What to expect this week: The Dallas game is key … to Dallas. The whole week is a tough one. All four games are on the road. OKC will be motivated and the game is key to both teams now. Cleveland probably has the edge in their Sunday matchup. Going .500 on the trip would be satisfactory.
5. Memphis Grizzlies (37-25 as of Sunday night, 3 1/2 games behind the Los Angeles Clippers; 4 1/2 games ahead of Dallas)
Last week: def. Denver, 103-96; def. Sacramento, 104-98; def. Utah, 94-88; lost to Phoenix, 109-100.
This week: at Cleveland (Monday), at Boston (Wednesday), vs. New Orleans (Friday), at Atlanta (Saturday).
Status: The Grizzlies are going to kick themselves for losing to the Suns, but a 3-1 week is nothing to cry about when you're trying to maintain that lead over Dallas for the No. 5 seed.
What to expect this week: The Grizzlies are going to have a tough one this week. Road games in Cleveland, Boston and Atlanta, with only a home game against New Orleans to soften a difficult road trip. The Grizzlies need to steal one of those road games and they cannot lose to New Orleans.
6. Dallas Mavericks (33-30 as of Sunday night, 4 1/2 games behind Memphis; 1/2 game ahead of Portland)
Last week: def. Orlando, 121-108; lost to Sacramento, 104-101; lost to Denver, 116-114 (OT).
This week: vs. Los Angeles Clippers (Monday, and the DB.com GameThread for tonight is here), vs. Detroit (Wednesday), vs. Indiana (Saturday)
Status: An opportunity lost for the Mavs this week. Falling to both Sacramento and Denver is pretty much inexcusable if you're trying to keep pace with Memphis at No. 5. Plus, Portland lost twice last week, so the Mavs squandered a chance to create some breathing room.
What to expect this week: With the Grizzlies set for a tough week (on paper), the time is now for Dallas to have a big week. Fortunately all three games are at home, but none will be easy. A 2-1 week would be acceptable. ... but it would be nice to not spit away games as the Mavs just did against the Kings (story here) and the Nuggets (story here).
Fish is right. At what point is "clutch'' more about "reputation'' than "actual final score''?
7. Portland Trail Blazers (33-31 as of Sunday night, 1/2 game behind Dallas; 1 1/2 games ahead of Houston)
Last week: def. New York, 104-85; lost to Boston, 116-93; lost to Toronto, 117-115; lost to Detroit, 123-103.
This week: vs. Washington (Tuesday), at Golden State (Friday), vs. Orlando (Sunday).
Status: Finally, the Trail Blazers have cooled off now that the calendar has turned to March. Three straight losses against Eastern Conference teams prevented them from making up ground on Dallas and further extending their lead on Houston.
What to expect this week: The last time the Trail Blazers faced the Warriors they won. I suspect that won't be the case this time around. But Portland cannot have anything worse than a 2-1 week.
8. Houston Rockets (31-32 as of Sunday night, 1 1/2 games behind Portland and 1 1/2 game ahead of Utah)
Last week: lost to Milwaukee, 128-121; def. New Orleans, 100-95; lost to Chicago, 108-100; def. Toronto, 113-107.
This week: at Philadelphia (Wednesday), at Boston (Friday), at Charlotte (Saturday).
Status: The upset win over Toronto on Sunday night was a nice touch, helping the Rockets salvage a .500 week. The win was especially nice, given that Portland lost on Sunday as well. In any event, it's a zany sort of fun to watch the Rockets try to get on the same page ...
What to expect this week: The goal now has to be to hold off Utah for the No. 8 seed. With three straight road games ahead, a 2-1 week would be acceptable to maintain that small lead.
Outside Looking In
9. Utah Jazz (29-33 as of Sunday night, 1 1/2 game behind Houston, 3 1/2 games ahead of Sacramento)
Last week: lost to Boston, 100-95; lost to Toronto, 104-94; lost to Memphis, 94-88; def. New Orleans, 106-94.
This week: vs. Atlanta (Tuesday), at Golden State (Wednesday), vs. Washington (Saturday), at Sacramento (Sunday).
Status: Boy, the Jazz needed that win over New Orleans to snap their three-game losing streak for the week. But I get the sense the gas tank is starting to go dry with this group.
What to expect this week: Two home games, two road games. The Jazz are significantly better at home, but Atlanta will be a toughie. I suspect the best they can hope for is 2-2.