Crafty Mavericks Lose Again, on Verge of Avoiding Lakers in NBA Playoffs

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Remember waaaay back when the Mavericks were salivating over somehow catching the Spurs for the best record in the NBA's Western Conference and homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs? Don't look now, but after last night's home loss, the goal is to somehow hold onto third place.

Or is it?

A four-game losing streak and an 8-9 record in their last 17 games has Dallas sliding toward the No. 4 seed. With four games remaining the Mavs have only a one-game lead on fourth-place Oklahoma City. And the Thunder hold the tiebreaker edge by virtue of being the Northwest Division champions.

Dallas' last four: Clippers on Friday, Suns Sunday, Rockets Monday, Hornets Wednesday.

Thunder's last four: Nuggets on Friday, at Lakers Sunday, at Kings Monday, Bucks Wednesday

Lethargic play, a losing streak and a slide in the standings sounds ominous this time of year. But as we all know, the playoffs are all about matchups, and No. 4 might not be so bad after all.


Because at No. 4 the Mavs would play the Denver Nuggets in the first round. Given that they've lost two straight to Denver and their last nine in a row to Western Conference playoff opponents, I know an opening-round victory is anything but guaranteed.

But if the Mavs survive, they would face the top-seeded Spurs in the West semis instead of the Lakers. Yeah, the Spurs clinched the top seed last night and are 60-19; the Lakers have suddenly lost consecutive games to the crappy Jazz and Warriors.

But seriously, who would you rather play: Spurs or Lakers? That's what I thought.

Of course, if the Mavs play like they did last night, none of it will matter. With center Tyson Chandler resting his sore tailbone and with Jason Kidd sitting out just to get some extra rest, the Mavs fell in a 16-point hole, rallied to tie it with three minutes left and then watched Denver score nine straight.

Most troubling were the actions of a couple veterans. Shawn Marion got yanked from the game after failing to hustle back on defense after his ugly air ball in the fourth quarter. And in the final minute, Jason Terry lost his cool and got his technical. Yes, again.

Said coach Rick Carlisle afterward: "We're pros here. We don't have a bunch of rookies running around out there. So we can't be doing that stuff. Simple as that. After the fact, I think our guys realized that, but in the heat of the moment we've got to be better. ... I don't give a crap about a missed shot, but when anybody on our team is not running back, that's a problem."

The Mavs have a week to get this straightened out. Otherwise it won't matter who they play.

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