When Dallas Mavericks guard Jason Terry boldly claimed last week that his team was going to catch the San Antonio Spurs, we rolled our eyes. Because, one, it wasn't possible. And, two, it didn't really matter.
After further review, watch out.
Terry scored 30 points last night on sizzling 13-of-18 shooting and the Mavs beat the Philadelphia 76ers, 101-93, for their seventh consecutive victory and 17th victory in 18 games. (Their only loss in the stretch came via Arron Afflalo's buzzer-beater in Denver on February 10.)
The Spurs, meanwhile, were blown out in Memphis. This might get interesting after all.
With 22 games remaining in the season, the Mavs (44-16) now trail the Spurs (49-11) by five games for the best record in the West. The Lakers lurk two back of the Mavs.
Gentlemen, start your stretch drives.
We don't give a damn about hanging another meaningless Southwest Division championship banner in American Airlines Center -- saw what that got us last season, right? -- but the ramifications of catching San Antonio would be this:
Avoiding the Spurs and Lakers until the West finals.
If Dallas can't catch San Antonio and finishes second, it would then face the Lakers in the West semifinals. Despite all the angling and rhetoric and massaging of the roster to directly combat the Lakers, the Mavs haven't faced L.A. in the playoffs since way back in 1988. Weird.
If the standings remain and both teams win their first-round series against diluted opponents, come early May it's on.
The Mavs next play Indiana, Memphis and Minnesota, with an inviting chance to push their run to 20 of 21. Down the stretch they host the Lakers (March 12) and Spurs (March 18) and play in L.A. (March 31). The Lakers and Spurs, FYI, play Sunday on ABC.
Even with All-Star point guard Tony Parker sidelined at least two weeks, the Spurs are unlikely to crater. For Dallas to catch the Spurs it would have to go 17-5 the rest of the way while San Antonio went 12-10. (Spurs lead the season series, 2-1.) Again, unlikely, although four of the Spurs' next eight games are against the Heat (twice), Lakers and Mavericks.
With Peja's improvement and Roddy Beaubois' return and the consistent play of Jasons Terry and Kidd, the Mavs have made us forget they lost six in a row in mid-January and went 2-7 without Dirk Nowitzki.
The stretch run should be riveting. And it just might be rewarding.