About a month ago in this cover story Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban told me his team didn't fear a first-round NBA Playoff matchup with the Los Angeles Lakers.
"The Lakers don't intimidate us at all," Cuban maintains. "In the West it's going to come down to whoever stays the healthiest and gets hot at the right time."
If it's all the same to him, the rest of us would like to avoid Kobe Bryant at all cost. Right?
Here's the Mavs' only chance to do just that: Catch Utah.
Not that last night's 20-point romp over the Minnesota Timberwolves means anything, but let's assume for a second that the Mavs will restore order down the stretch. Josh Howard is back. Jerry Stackhouse is about to return. All hands on deck.
The Mavericks have eight games remaining (six at home), including tonight at American Airlines Center against the Miami Heat. If they go 6-2 - which is doable - they just might move up to the 7th seed.
Like this ...
As we head into April the Mavs trail the Jazz by two games with eight remaining. Sounds daunting, and it's even worse considering Utah holds a 2-1 season series tiebreaker and the next tiebreaker via a better conference record.
But when you examine the schedules, there's hope. The Mavs are 26-9 at home; the Jazz 14-22 on the road after last night's 21-point blowout loss in Portland.
Barring home hiccups or road upsets, the Mavericks finish 6-2 like this:
vs. Miami W
at Memphis W
vs. Phoenix W
vs. Utah W
vs. New Orleans L
at New Orleans L
vs. Minnesota W
vs. Houston W
That gets Dallas to 50-32, a ninth consecutive season of 50 wins and the playoffs. But is it enough to move up to 7th and avoid the Lakers?
Yes, because I see the Jazz in their final eight going 3-5 like this:
at Denver L
vs. Minnesota W
at New Orelans L
at Dallas L
at San Antonio L
vs. Golden State W
vs. Los Angeles Clippers W
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at Los Angeles Lakers L
In those scenarios, the Mavericks win 50 and Utah 49. As of today that would be the difference between playing the Lakers and the Nuggets in the first round.
The swing game, of course, comes a week from tonight when the Jazz visit AAC. Unless something screwy takes place before or after, that game will be played for 7th in the west.
You with me?