John Hollinger lists the Mavericks chances of making the playoffs at an incredibly slim 1.6%, a chance calculated by computer simulation of 5000 iterations of each remaining game outcome for all teams. After Dallas’ crushing loss against the Lakers, many have resigned themselves that the Mavericks’ playoff dreams are ‘dead.’
But before we make proclamations, or get into probabilities, lets first look at the possibilities.
The Lakers have seven games remaining, and sit 2.5 games ahead of the Dallas Mavericks. Their remaining schedule looks like this:
Fri 5 vs Memphis
Sun 7 @ L.A. Clippers
Tue 9 vs New Orleans
Wed 10 @ Portland
Fri 12 vs Golden State
Sun 14 vs San Antonio
Wed 17 vs Houston
Given that the Lakers own the tiebreaker, that essentially adds a game to their current 2.5 game advantage. Therefore, the Los Angeles likely needs to lose at least four games over their remaining seven for Dallas to have the chance to catch them. Just looking at the names on the Lakers’ schedule, there seem to be five “losable” games remaining (Memphis, Clippers, Golden State, San Antonio, Houston).
However, given that San Antonio will likely have the top overall seed sewn up by the time they play Los Angeles, it’s possible Greg Popovich could rest his impact players against the Lakers who will all-but-certainly need a win far more than the Spurs.
The Utah Jazz, with their loss last night, now fall a half-game behind the Lakers and out of the playoffs. They, too, own the tiebreaker over Dallas so their two game lead is essentially three with these six games remaining:
Fri 5 vs New Orleans
Sun 7 @ Golden State
Tue 9 vs Oklahoma City
Fri 12 vs Minnesota
Mon 15 @ Minnesota
Wed 17 @ Memphis
The threatening games for the Jazz appear to be Golden State, whose biggest concern is making their one game lead over the Rockets stand up, Oklahoma City, and Memphis, who needs to erase the Clippers’ 1.5 game lead.
Dallas, on the other hand, has the most games remaining, but also the most ground to make up. Their remaining foes:
Thu 4 @ Denver
Fri 5 @ Sacramento
Sun 7 @ Portland
Wed 10 vs Phoenix
Fri 12 vs Denver
Sun 14 @ New Orleans
Mon 15 vs Memphis
Wed 17 vs New Orleans
Both meetings with Denver, including tonight’s game, and the matchup with the Grizz, seem to be the most losable games remaining for the Mavericks.
Assuming the highly optimistic outcomes of not only Los Angeles closing out the season 3-4 in their final seven but also Utah finishing 3-3, both teams would finish with identical 42-40 records.
A stretch? Yes, a scenario requires sustained good fortune, something that has seemingly abandoned the Mavs this season. But it’s not impossible.
Therefore, to leapfrog both teams, Dallas would likely need at least a 43-39 record, meaning a 7-1 finish. That’s perhaps too tall a task for a team that has won four games in a row only twice this season and is still only 3-16 against the top six teams in the Western Conference.
Rather than worry about where Dallas could drop that one game (tonight, probably, against the Nuggets, who have the league-best 33-3 home record) let’s look at things the Mavericks need to do in order to maximize their chances of success over the final eight games of the year.
Pray the Shots Keep Falling: Overall this season, the Mavericks’ are shooting 46% from the floor, the 9th-best mark in the league. However, in wins, Dallas averages 50% shooting, while in losses, the Mavericks are only hitting 43% of their shots.
Since the Dallas defense remains middling at best, they will likely have to outscore (read: outshoot) their opponents the rest of the way. One way they can do that is to…
Keep Hitting the 3 Dallas is 16-6 this year when they make at least 10 three-pointers a game (meaning, they are 20-32 when they fail to hit 10 three’s). However, that’s not a license to let fly, as in those 16 wins, Dallas shot an average of 45.2% from the arc.
9 / 3-3
8 / 5-6
7 / 2-5
<7 / 11-18
Clearly this is a team that relies on the long ball for success.
Hold their own on the Glass: In Dallas’ 36 wins this season, they average 0.64 more rebounds per game than their opponent. In losses, Dallas averages almost eight rebounds per game (-7.61) fewer than opponents. For the year, the Mavericks average a rebounding deficit of 3.6 per game.
That’s not to say that Dallas has to win the boards, as 16 of Dallas 36 wins have come when they’ve lost the rebounding battle. Not getting annihilated on the boards seems to be the key as only seven times has Dallas lost a game with a positive rebounding differential this year.
Get into the Flow (Offense): When Dallas’ offense is functioning as Rick Carlisle envisions, it is a heads-up symphony of ball movement. The ball finds the man with the best position to score, and often he does. 25 times this season have the Mavericks recorded 25 or more assists. They are 21-4 in those games.
Further, this is a trend that is headed in the right direction as 19 of those 25 games have come since the New Year.
Limit the Turnovers: It appears "13'' is the magic number. Indeed, the team's record is 28-15 when the Mavs have 13 or fewer TO's and 8-23 with more than 13 TO's.
Cherish the Free Throw: For a jump-shooting team that doesn’t generate many free throws, hitting each one becomes key. This year, Dallas is 13-7 when they attempt at least 25 free throws and 12-4 when they make 21 or more.
Keep Fouls to a Minimum: In Wins, Dallas averages 19.6 fouls per contest (OT and regulation) while in losses, that figure jumps to 22.1. On nights that Dallas commits 19 or fewer personal fouls, they have a .645 winning percentage (20-11).
At first glance, this list seems fairly obvious. Since the time Naismith hung a peach basket, the fundamentals of hitting shots, limiting turnovers, strong rebounding, etc. have correlated with basketball success. However, for a team with a margin for as thin as Dallas’ has been this season, it is the precise execution of those fundamentals that is so vital.
Fulfilling that, and with a whole lot of luck, the Mavericks just may extend their streak of 12 straight postseason trips. However, you probably shouldn’t count on it. For a team with only three wins against the West’s top six, asking for 2-3 more in the next two weeks -- while hoping for dual collapses elsewhere -- may be just beyond the reach of hope.