The Dallas Mavericks did all they could to set themselves up for a critical back-to-back in Sacramento on Sunday and in Denver on Monday. Head coach Rick Carlisle even sat Dirk Nowitzki and Deron Williams on Friday in an effort to rest them for that stretch.
It did not work out at all. The Mavs fell hard to the Kings, 133-111. Nowitzki had an anemic 14 points. Williams wasn't able to play at all, thanks to an abdominal strain. Eight different Mavs found themselves in double figures, but that hardly mattered. The Kings countered with DeMarcus Cousins' double-double (20 points, 12 rebounds), Willie Cauley-Stein's 21 points and Rajon Rondo's 11 points and 11 assists. ... and with Rondo being able to hoot to ESPN, "I want (the Mavs) to get their (non-playoff) plane ticket as soon as we get ours ... If we're not going to make the playoffs, then let's help some of these guys go home with us.''
Yes, it's that bad: The Mavs are being thought of as being in the same class with the 11th-place Kings.
Dallas flew out to Denver after the loss a half-game behind Houston for the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference. If the season ended today the Mavs would be sitting home contemplating this late-season swoon (at 35-38 they have lost three straight games and 10 of their last 12) that cost them the postseason. The week ahead gives them a chance for redemption, and with the Utah Jazz and the Houston Rockets less than two games ahead of the Mavs, there is still time to pull back in the playoffs.
The real question is whether the Mavericks have enough ammunition to do it?
Entering this week, this is how the race for the final five seeds stands.
4. Los Angeles Clippers (45-27 as of Sunday night, 5 1/2 games behind Oklahoma City; 4 1/2 games ahead of Memphis — clinched playoff berth)
Last week: lost to Golden State, 114-98; def. Portland, 96-94; def. Denver, 105-90.
This week: vs. Boston (Monday), at Minnesota (Wednesday), at Oklahoma City (Thursday), vs. Washington (Sunday)
Games remaining: 10.
Status: The Clips are locked into a playoff berth and are nearly locked in as the No. 4 seed at this point. It would take a miracle to catch Oklahoma City, or be caught by Memphis.
What to expect this week: A week of protecting their lead over the Grizzlies, though none of those games are easy outs.
5. Memphis Grizzlies (41-32 as of Sunday night, 4 1/2 games behind the Los Angeles Clippers; 3 1/2 games ahead of Portland)
Last week: def. Phoenix, 103-97; lost to Los Angeles Lakers, 107-100; lost to San Antonio, 110-104.
This week: vs. San Antonio (Monday), vs. Denver (Wednesday), vs. Toronto (Friday), at Orlando (Sunday).
Games remaining: 9
Status: The loss to the Lakers was a bit unexpected. The loss to the Spurs was not.
What to expect this week: A Grizzlies team that takes care of enough business to stay ahead of the Trail Blazers for fifth place.
6. Portland Trail Blazers (38-36 as of Sunday night, 3 1/2 behind Memphis; 1 1/2 games ahead of Utah)
Last week: def. Dallas, 109-103; lost to Los Angeles Clippers, 96-94; def. Philadelphia, 108-105.
This week: vs. Sacramento (Monday), vs. Boston (Thursday), vs. Miami (Saturday), at Golden State (Sunday).
Games remaining: 8
Status: Holding steady at No. 6, with plenty of change behind them. They may have cooled a bit, but with only eight games left and a game and a half on the field they may only need to win half of their remaining games to lock in a series with Oklahoma City.
What to expect this week: The Kings look like they're dangerous right now (just ask the Mavericks). Boston will be a tough game, but at least it's at home. Golden State may as well be a loss. But if the Blazers can win two, they should still be in the No. 6 spot.
7. Utah Jazz (36-37 as of Sunday night, 1 1/2 games behind Portland and 1/2 game ahead of Houston)
Last week: def. Houston, 89-87; lost to Oklahoma City, 113-91; def. Minnesota, 93-84.
This week: vs. Los Angeles Lakers (Monday), vs. Golden State (Wednesday), vs. Minnesota (Friday), at Phoenix (Sunday).
Games remaining: 9
Status: The Jazz moved up the standings like a bullet this past week, going from the outside looking in to No. 7. The win over Houston may be a valuable one down the stretch.
What to expect this week: If the Jazz can split the first two games of the week, the games against Minnesota and Phoenix are winnable. I could see the Jazz going 3-1 this week and making life more complicated for the slumping Mavericks.
8. Houston Rockets (36-38 as of Sunday night, 1/2 game behind Utah; 1/2 game ahead of Dallas)
Last week: lost to Oklahoma City, 111-107; lost to Utah, 89-87; def. Toronto, 112-109; lost to Indiana, 104-101.
This week: at Cleveland (Tuesday), vs. Chicago (Thursday), vs. Oklahoma City (Sunday).
Games remaining: 8
Status: What is it with the Houston Rockets and the Toronto Raptors? The Rockets swept the season series. Otherwise, it was a lost week for the Rockets and the loss to Utah was a painful one, if you consider tiebreakers.
What to expect this week: This could turn out to be a lost week for the Rockets. None of those games are going to be easy to win and, in a tight race for the final playoff berth, could make the difference.
Outside Looking In
9. Dallas Mavericks (35-38 as of Sunday night, 1/2 game behind Houston, 4 1/2 games ahead of Denver)
Last week: lost to Portland, 109-103; lost to Golden State, 128-120; lost to Sacramento, 133-111.
This week: at Denver (Monday), vs. New York (Wednesday), at Detroit (Friday), at Minnesota (Sunday).
Games remaining: 9.
Status: It was an ugly week for the Mavs, no question. They had chances to beat both Portland and Golden State and couldn't get it done.
What to expect this week: A pivotal week for the Mavs to get back into the Top 8. All four of these games can be won, but the mental fatigue of an 0-3 week, and three road games in the next four, could be too much.
"We've got to decide if we want to go home after the last game or not,'' says Wes Matthews. "Everybody's got to look in the mirror."