The Dallas Mavericks will hinge their hopes on staying in the Western Conference playoff race on the upcoming back-to-back.
The Mavericks knew the going would be tough against Golden State Friday night, and their lineup reflected it. Head coach Rick Carlisle rested Dirk Nowitzki, sat Deron Williams and didn't have Devin Harris after Harris' wife delivered their baby Friday.
Despite that, the Mavericks played hard, stayed within striking distance and pushed the Warriors late before losing, 128-120, the same day forward Chandler Parsons' season ended with knee surgery.
Carlisle made it clear he expects Nowitzki to play both games of the back-to-back, which starts Sunday in Sacramento and continues Monday in Denver. Williams, who sat with a slight abdominal strain, should be available, too. It's unclear if Harris will be back when the Mavs play Sacramento on Sunday.
But with the Mavs locked in a battle with Houston and Utah for the final two spots in the Western Conference playoffs -- and that "What If Dallas Doesn't Make The Playoffs?'' question looming -- Friday's game was about making sure the Mavs didn't expend all of their energy against the league's top team.
"We're looking at a huge game Sunday and the last 10 left are all huge," Carlisle said.
The Mavs (35-37) are tied with Utah for the No. 8 spot after the loss, with the Rockets up one-half game on the Mavs for seventh.
Perhaps they can bottle up whatever Charlie Villanueva had in the fourth quarter and distribute it to the rest of the team for the next two games, because he was on fire as the Mavs cut the Warriors' lead to a one-possession game with about three minutes left.
Villanueva, who has averaged 5.0 points per game this season, knocked down 16 points in the fourth quarter, including four 3-pointers on 6-of-9 shooting. His confidence permeated the rest of the lineup, as the Mavs chipped away at the Warriors (65-7), who went chilly from the field for parts of the final quarter.
It was Villanueva's step-back 3-pointer with 3:15 left in the game that cut the lead to three, 116-113. But all that seemed to do was wake up the Warriors, as Golden State's Harrison Barnes answered with a turnaround jumper to push the lead back to five.
Then the Warriors caught a break. Villanueva has his fifth 3-pointer of the night lined up on the right side of the court. He missed, but it appeared Warriors forward Draymond Green fouled him, as Green seemed to run through him and Villanueva went to the ground. But no foul was called. Mavs owner Mark Cuban, shortly thereafter, took to Twitter to angrily register his complaints, beginning with a retweet of DB.com's Jeff Stotts. You can follow the tirade, as Mavs fans reaction, here.)
Golden State's Stephen Curry followed that with a layup to push the lead back to 120-113 with three minutes left.
A Wesley Matthews 3-pointer did cut the lead down to four points, 120-116, with 1:20 left. But Klay Thompson and Barnes hit back-to-back 3-pointers to push the lead back to 10 points in the final minute.
It was an interesting night in Oakland on several fronts. Mavericks forward David Lee received his Warriors world championship ring and received a huge ovation from the crowd at Oracle Arena during pre-game. Curry presented Lee his ring, which Nowitzki kept for safe keeping.
Thompson continued his assault on the Mavericks, scoring 40 points and making nine 3-pointers. Thompson has scored 40 points, 39 points and 35 points in his last three games against Dallas. Curry dumped in 33 points, including a buzzer-beating 35-footer at halftime. Green had a double-double, going for 19 points and 10 rebounds. ... and unlimited range. ...
The Mavericks, despite being short-handed, had seven players in double figures. That included Lee, who made his first start with Dallas and scored 12 points. Matthews led the Mavs with 26 points, including six 3-pointers. J.J. Barea poured in 21 and Raymond Felton scored 17. The only starter who wasn't in double figures was Salah Mejri, who started at center and scored one point.
Zaza Pachulia came off the bench for a double-double, scoring 12 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. Justin Anderson had one of his better games this season, scoring 10 points and contributing on D.
With Thompson's 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter the Warriors broke Houston's record for most 3-pointers by a team in a season. With the Warriors' and Mavs' 39 combined 3-pointers Friday night they broke the NBA record for most combined 3-pointers in a single game. ... and now the Dallas focus changes. Or re-focuses ...
"We're not thinking playoffs right now,'' Matthews said. "We're thinking Sacramento, and then Denver."