Mavericks-Trail Blazers Preview
The Dallas Mavericks are well aware time is running out if they want to avoid missing the playoffs for the first time since 2000, but they seemingly have a favorable schedule down the stretch.
They conclude a four-game road trip Sunday night versus the Portland Trail Blazers, who have lost seven straight and are guaranteed to miss the postseason for a second consecutive year.
The Mavericks (37-39) are three games behind the Los Angeles Lakers for the Western Conference's final playoff spot and 2 1/2 back of ninth-place Utah. They dropped the first two games of the trip - a 20-point loss to the Lakers on Tuesday and Thursday's last-second defeat at Denver - before winning 117-108 in Sacramento on Friday.
"We're playing game to game and trying to win every one and give ourselves a chance," coach Rick Carlisle said. "This is a prideful group of guys. We want to finish this season on an uptick."
Shawn Marion came up with 25 points and 12 rebounds Friday after averaging 8.2 and 5.8, respectively, over the previous five games.
While Los Angeles faces four teams currently in playoff position over its final six games and the Jazz play three over their final five, the Mavericks seemingly have an easier road. Following Sunday's contest, they have home games against West-worst Phoenix and a Denver team that just lost Danilo Gallinari for the season to an ACL tear.
Dallas then plays two of its final three versus 50-loss New Orleans, with a matchup against Memphis in between.
Dirk Nowitzki said the team has been through a lot of difficult times this season in its quest for a 13th consecutive postseason berth.
"We've had numerous and numerous and numerous tough losses this year - one-point possessions down the stretch where the game could have gone either way - and we lost our fair share of them," Nowitzki said. "But somehow we always get back up. ... We always come back the next day and compete. That's really all you can ask for."
O.J. Mayo is averaging only 8.0 points and shooting 33.3 percent over his last five games, but he's averaged 25.0 points while shooting 68.3 percent as Dallas has won two of three versus Portland this season.
The Blazers (33-43) have lost by an average of 17.3 points during their seven-game skid and are on the verge of their longest losing streak since dropping the final eight games of the 2005-06 season.
They fell 116-98 to Houston on Friday in the second game of a five-game homestand, officially eliminating them from playoff contention.
"It's definitely a downer. To have a losing streak at this time of the year and playing against playoff teams, it's a difficult task," coach Terry Stotts said. "In general, I've found that most players bounce back pretty well and we'll bounce back Sunday."
Wesley Matthews scored 18 points and said he intended to talk to the team regarding the recent efforts.
"It's not even about (the playoffs)," Matthews said. "We've got to play like this is the blessing it is."
LaMarcus Aldridge was the major bright spot, scoring 32 points and grabbing 13 rebounds after missing the previous four games with a right ankle sprain. He doesn't believe the recent swoon is due to a lack of effort.
"I don't think I question anyone playing hard," said Aldridge, averaging 26.8 points and 10.8 boards in his last five versus Dallas. "I definitely want guys to play a lot smarter out there."