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The Dallas Mavericks picked a great time to get hot.
Remember this time last week the Mavericks were on the outside looking in when it came to the Western Conference playoffs? Well, after a 4-0 week — which saw J.J. Barea ("The Pinball Protagonist'') have perhaps the hottest stretch of his NBA career — the Mavericks are back in the playoff hunt and, if the season ended today, their seeding would actually allow them to avoid the Golden State Warriors.
Of course, that means a date with the San Antonio Spurs, but I suppose that's splitting hairs. If the goal is to make the playoffs, the Mavs are much closer than they were a week ago. Click here to review the wins of the week, including at Minnesota and at Detroit, featuring Fish's column on how he's "Ready To Be Fooled Again.''
Entering this week, this is how the race for the final five seeds stands.
4. Los Angeles Clippers (48-28 as of Sunday night, 4 1/2 games behind Oklahoma City; 7 1/2 games ahead of Memphis — clinched playoff berth)
Last week: def. Boston, 114-90; def. Minnesota, 99-79; lost to Oklahoma City, 119-117; def. Washington, 114-109.
This week: vs. Los Angeles Lakers (Tuesday), at Los Angeles Lakers (Wednesday), at Utah (Friday), vs. Dallas (Sunday)
Games remaining: 6.
Status: The Clippers are locked in as the No. 4 seed. The only question is whether the Clippers will see the Memphis Grizzlies or the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round. We'll get to that.
What to expect this week: It's time for the Clippers to start integrating Blake Griffin back into the offense after three months of injuries and a suspension. This should be interesting.
5. Memphis Grizzlies (41-36 as of Sunday night, 7 1/2 games behind the Los Angeles Clippers; 1/2 games ahead of Portland)
Last week: lost to San Antonio, 101-87; lost to Denver, 109-105; lost to Atlanta, 99-95; lost to Orlando, 119-107.
This week: vs. Chicago (Tuesday), at Dallas (Friday), vs. Golden State (Saturday).
Games remaining: 5
Status: Well the Grizzlies have selected the worst possible time to start losing. The streak is now six. It would appear the injuries and the absence of Marc Gasol has finally caught up with them. If they're not careful, the Trail Blazers might catch up with them too.
What to expect this week: The Grizzlies catch two desperate teams in Chicago and Dallas and the league's best team, Golden State, chasing history. That's not a good recipe for a 2-1 week, much less 3-0. The Grizzlies are just two games ahead of eighth place. They have to be careful, even with so few games left.
6. Portland Trail Blazers (41-37 as of Sunday night, 1/2 behind Memphis; 1 1/2 games ahead of Dallas and Utah)
Last week: def. Sacramento, 105-93; def. Boston, 116-109; def. Miami, 110-93; lost to Golden State, 136-111.
This week: at Sacramento (Tuesday), vs. Oklahoma City (Wednesday), vs. Minnesota (Saturday).
Games remaining: 4
Status: Portland is back to being hot again, and this could spell trouble for both the Grizzlies and the L.A. Clippers. Why? The Trail Blazers look like a much tougher draw for the Clips, while sliding back to No. 6 hands the Grizzlies a tough matchup with Oklahoma City. The Trail Blazers don't need much to move into that No. 5 spot, especially if Memphis keeps losing.
What to expect this week: With just four games remaining will that work for the Trail Blazers or against the Trail Blazers? Good question, especially since the Grizzles have an extra game on Portland on the schedule. That's why it's critical to keep winning with a schedule that looks manageable the next two weeks.
7. Dallas Mavericks (39-38 as of Sunday night, 1 1/2 games behind Portland, tied with Utah, No. 7 by virtue of tiebreaker)
Last week: def. Denver, 97-88; def. New York, 91-89; def. Detroit, 98-89; def. Minnesota, 88-78
This week: vs. Houston (Wednesday), vs. Memphis (Friday), at Los Angeles Clippers (Sunday).
Games remaining: 5.
Status: A week ago the Mavs' backs were against the wall and they were technically on the outside looking in. After this week the Mavs are back in the hunt and back in the Top 8, thanks to guard J.J. Barea's huge week, both off the bench and in the starting lineup. Barea's last seven games have been amazing.
What to expect this week: I think the Mavs need to beat the Rockets and the Grizzlies, because that Clippers game is the start of a back-to-back that sees them face Utah the next day, and Rick Carlisle might want to do some creative roster management in preparation a game with serious tiebreaker implications.
8. Utah Jazz (39-38 as of Sunday night, tied with Dallas, and one game ahead of Houston)
Last week: def. Los Angeles Lakers, 123-75; lost to Golden State, 103-96 (OT); def. Minnesota, 98-85; def. Phoenix, 101-86.
This week: vs. San Antonio (Tuesday); vs. Los Angeles Clippers (Friday), at Denver (Sunday)
Games remaining: 5
Status: The Jazz did what teams must do when they're hanging by a playoff thread — win the games you're supposed to win. Heck, the Jazz was darn close to beating the Warriors before losing in OT. They're pushing hard to make it.
What to expect this week: Can the Jazz find a way to split with San Antonio and the Clippers? Depends on which teams rest which players. A win over Denver is absolutely critical with Dallas and the Lakers looming the following week. The Dallas game is critical to seeding, if the Jazz can hold off Houston, of course.
Outside Looking In
9. Houston Rockets (38-39 as of Sunday night, one game behind Utah and Dallas)
Last week: def. Cleveland, 106-100; lost to Chicago, 103-100; def. Oklahoma City, 118-110.
This week: at Dallas (Wednesday), vs. Phoenix (Thursday), vs. Los Angeles Lakers (Sunday).
Games remaining: 5
Status: Let's tip our hat to coach J.B. Bickerstaff. He took over a near-toxic situation in Houston and managed to keep the Rockets relevant. That's no small feat and it's why they're beating teams like Cleveland and Oklahoma City down the stretch.
What to expect this week: The Dallas game on Wednesday is huge. It's also the only remaining game against teams with playoff aspirations. Beat Dallas and take advantage of those remaining matchups and the Rockets may reach the playoffs after all.