The Dallas Mavericks are in trouble when it comes to the Western Conference playoffs.
This week the Mavs are in eighth place, which is good enough to get in the postseason, but all that earns them is a first-round matchup with Golden State that isn't likely to go well. But the Mavs are just two games ahead of Utah and are in the midst of a five-game losing streak going into Monday's game with Charlotte. Nothing is a given at this point and Dallas must turn it around to stay in front of the Jazz or risk missing the playoffs completely.
Entering this week, this is how the race for the final five seeds stands.
4. Los Angeles Clippers as of Sunday night 42-23, 1 1/2 games behind Oklahoma City; 3 1/2 games ahead of Memphis)
Last week: def. Dallas, 109-90; lost to Oklahoma City, 120-108; def. New York, 101-94; lost to Cleveland, 114-90.
This week: at San Antonio (Tuesday), at Houston (Wednesday), at Memphis (Saturday), at New Orleans (Sunday).
Status: A .500 week keeps the Clippers in the driver's seat for the No. 4 seed. I think Memphis will have a hard time catching them at this point, especially with another injury sapping the Grizzlies' starting lineup (see No. 5).
What to expect this week: This week is a pretty critical stretch for the Clippers if they want to catch Oklahoma City and third place in the Western Conference. If they're team I think they are their only loss should be to San Antonio. Blake Griffin should be back soon, and it will be interesting to see if he adds to what the Clippers are doing or if he inadvertently screws up their newfound chemistry.
5. Memphis Grizzlies (39-25 as of Sunday night, 3 1/2 games behind the Los Angeles Clippers; 4 1/2 games ahead of Portland)
Last week: def. Cleveland, 106-103; lost to Boston, 116-956; def. New Orleans, 121-114; lost to Atlanta, 95-83.
This week: at Houston (Monday), vs. Minnesota (Wednesday), at Milwaukee (Thursday), vs. Los Angeles Clippers (Saturday).
Status: That win over Cleveland was unexpected, as the Grizzles didn't dress four starters and still found a way to beat Cleveland. No shame in losing to Boston or Atlanta, although the Hawks really aren't that dangerous when it comes to the postseason. Guard Mike Conley is out for three weeks with a knee injury. That's bad timing for a team decimated by injuries and could impact them down the stretch, though that cushion over Portland will be hard for the Trail Blazers to overcome.
What to expect this week: This week's schedule is somewhat forgiving, as they get the Clippers at home and have two manageable road trips in Houston and Milwaukee. Going 2-2 means the Grizzlies likely maintain their edge.
6. Portland Trail Blazers (35-32 as of Sunday night, 4 1/2 games behind Memphis; 1 1/2 games ahead of Houston)
Last week: def. Washington, 116-109; lost to Golden State, 128-112; def. Orlando, 121-84.
This week: vs. Oklahoma City (Monday), at San Antonio (Thursday), at New Orleans (Friday), at Dallas (Sunday).
Status: The week went according to form. The loss to Golden State was expected, while the Trail Blazers handled their Eastern Conference games. Portland benefited from Dallas' slide, as it broke the off-and-on tie between the two teams in sixth place and allowed Portland to assert itself in the position.
What to expect this week: This, to me, is a big week for the Nos. 6-8 teams, mainly because of the schedule the Trail Blazers face this week. Losing to both the Thunder and the Spurs this week might just set up a battle with Dallas on Sunday that could allow the Mavs to move back up in the standings — that assumes, of course, that Dallas gets its act together this week.
7. Houston Rockets (33-33 as of Sunday night, 1 1/2 games behind Portland and tied with Dallas — Rockets get No. 7 seed due to tiebreaker)
Last week: def. Philadelphia, 118-104; def. Boston, 102-98; lost to Charlotte, 125-109.
This week: vs. Memphis (Monday), vs. Los Angeles Clippers (Wednesday), vs. Minnesota (Friday), at Atlanta (Saturday).
Status: While the Mavs slid, the Rockets surged into seventh place, albeit by tiebreaker. Of course its no given that Houston will stay in seventh place, but it looks as if they intend to make things difficult for everyone down the stretch.
What to expect this week: I'm interested to see how the Rockets handle a little prosperity this week. The Grizzles, the Clippers and the Hawks are all quality teams that, on paper, should beat Houston. Houston is playing .500 ball in its last eight games, so I tend to think it will be a .500 week for them, with the Memphis game being the most likely upset opportunity.
8. Dallas Mavericks (33-33 as of Sunday night, tied with Houston; two games ahead of Utah)
Last week: lost to Los Angeles Clippers, 109-90; lost to Detroit, 102-96; lost to Indiana, 112-105.
This week: at Charlotte (Monday), at Cleveland (Wednesday), vs. Golden State (Friday), vs. Portland (Sunday)
Status: Ugh. The Mavs are on a five-game losing streak. It's time for them to do a little soul-searching and Rick Carlisle isn't ruling out lineup changes at this point. The close games they were able to win earlier this season are not going their way now. There just seems to be little to no spark right now. But it's the NBA and that can change quickly. If the Mavs want to move up, or even stay in the hunt, that has to change now.
What to expect this week: Dallas' gauntlet continues. If you're not aware, Charlotte is a playoff team right now in the Eastern Conference. In fact, all four opponents carry playoff aspirations at the moment. The way Dallas is playing right now it will be lucky to go .500 this week. And as for the present problems and the future obstacles? Fish addresses The Blow-It-Up Mindset in his column here.
Outside Looking In
9. Utah Jazz (31-35 as of Sunday night, two games behind Dallas, three games ahead of Denver)
Last week: lost to Atlanta, 91-84; lost to Golden State, 115-94; def. Washington, 114-93; def. Sacramento, 108-99.
This week: vs. Cleveland (Monday), vs. Phoenix (Thursday), at Chicago (Saturday), at Milwaukee (Sunday).
Status: The Jazz are in a slide nearly as bad as Dallas, as they've lost seven of their last 10. But the door is ajar slightly, given how poorly the Mavs are playing right now. Utah has to find a way to get moving in the right direction.
What to expect this week: This week's schedule does not lend itself to crawling back into the race for eighth place. But for Utah it must win the games it can and see what happens. I don't anticipate they'll win enough to close the gap on Dallas this week, unless the Mavs' losing streak becomes a protracted one.