Dallas Mavericks

Sheepish Mavericks 96, Shitty Timberwolves 94

Embarrassing that the Dallas Mavericks had to pull a leftover Easter rabbit out of their hat last night against the Minnesota Timberwolves at American Airlines Center. But in this economy ... sorry, in this Western Conference playoff race, a two-point escape beats the hell out of laying an inexplicable, rotten egg.

The Mavericks actually trailed by seven points in the fourth quarter against a 24-win team giving crunch-time minutes to Brian Cardinal. Let that putridity sink in.

But if we've learned anything about head coach Rick Carlisle this season, it's that the guy can draw up an inbounds play. Because he did it twice last night, the Mavs are still alive for 6th place in the West.

"We couldn't lose this ball game," said Jason Terry.

They almost did.

Unlike Avery Johnson's Mavs - who often had to call timeout or throw long, defensive passes toward halfcourt - Carlisle's team has consistently produced open shots off crucial out-of-bounds possessions.

Last night Erick Dampier got a dunk off a baseline set in the final two minutes. And with the game on the line, it was Terry who curled off a Dirk Nowitzki screen, head-faked Sebastien Telfair out of the way and hit a baseline 18-footer for the game-winner with 0.2 on the clock.

(By the way, give Dirk credit for a steal of Telfair to set up the winning possession.)

Unlike Johnson - who often had the Hall of Fame point guard setting picks in set plays - Carlisle used Jason Kidd as the trigger man on both passes.

Good inbounds sets certainly don't guarantee post-season success, but those two at least gave Dallas hope of avoiding the Lakers in this weekend's first round matchup.

Currently tied for 6th, the Mavs can stay there if they beat the Rockets at home Wednesday night and the Hornets lose in San Antonio. If the Mavs win, they're guaranteed of no worse than 7th. But if they lose to Houston and Utah beats the Lakers, Dallas will get a face full of Kobe Bryant and a quick exit.

So, a regular season that started 5 1/2 almost months ago with an intriguing game against the Rockets ends tomorrow night with, um, an intriguing game against the Rockets.

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Richie Whitt
Contact: Richie Whitt