The Dallas Mavericks have dropped three straight games and are now 25-32 with 25 games left to play in a season that appears to be lost. Oh, it can still be a season of development, a season of smaller-than-usual thrills and a season of cherishing the continuation of The Dirk Era.
But Wednesday’s 90-84 loss at Memphis sends us to the front of the classroom to perform some blackboard math … and the class isn’t going to like the numbers we’re obliged to scribble.
We're not just juggling the numbers from the game, which featured Dallas losing a 25-point lead (one of the four worst such flops in franchise history), or committing six turnovers in the final five minutes before the half, or scoring five points in the entire third quarter, or allowing the Grizzlies to score 24 consecutive points.
"It's a tough lesson,'' coach Rick Carlisle said, "in a season full of tough lessons."
Ah yes, the big picture.
With the loss, Dallas stays in 11th place in the West behind the 10th-place Portland Trail Blazers. They are now five games back of the eighth and final playoff seed, presently owned by Houston. To jump up to that spot, they would need to not only play well enough to do so – a dubious concept – they would also have to leapfrog the likely also-rans the Rockets, Lakers and Blazers.
A stat expert will say Dallas has less than a six percent chance of making the playoffs this season – which would break a marvelous 12-year run of contention under owner Mark Cuban.
And here’s why the chances are so slim:
Last season, Dallas and Utah tied for the final two playoff spots with identical 36-30 records. That’s a .545 winning percentage, which would equate to 45 wins over an 82-game season, or just a tad better than Houston’s (the current eighth seed’s) current winning percentage. Over the course of the last 12 years in the competitive West, a winning percentage of .545 is what it’s taken to qualify for the postseason.
For Dallas to get to 45 wins, it would have to go 20-5 over the remainder of the schedule. Forget “strength of schedule’’ and “number of back-to-backs’’ and "two games next week against Houston'' and other factors that might swing the possibility of doing so one way or another: Winning 20 out of 25 games is a tall order for any outstanding team.
It seems an impossible task for these Mavs.
As Dirk himself said Tuesday, "It's not looking good for sure. Obviously, this league is crazy and we've seen a lot. I've seen a lot. But this is definitely getting tight."
This group isn’t made up of quitters. But it is made up of players who haven’t been up to the task. That was made obvious again by the 21 turnovers, by being outscored 34-4 during one period, and by the inability to get the ball to Dirk. (Was there really 15 consecutive game minutes during which he didn't get a shot?)
And now, the task is beyond "tight.''
Oh, and by the way, they aren’t quite “down to the task,’’ either, in terms of being bad enough to seek help in this summer’s NBA Lottery.
As far as Dallas is from playoff success, they Mavs are just as far from lotto success. Dallas has the third best record among lottery teams, giving them only a 1.1-percent chance of winning the top pick in this summer’s draft.
There are still some small things to be enjoyed and some neat people to be cherished.
But there is nothing enjoyable and nothing neat being scribbled up there on that math-classroom chalkboard.