The Dallas Mavericks’ two remaining games are against the only teams that could catch them for one of the Western Conference’s final two playoff spots.
They have a chance to make the second such matchup a lot less important – at least to them – because they will clinch a playoff spot if they can beat the visiting Phoenix Suns on Saturday night.
This game will decide the critical head-to-head tiebreaker because each team has one win in the season series. Phoenix (47-32) and Memphis are a half-game behind the seventh-place Mavericks (48-32), so that means the Suns would only be able to tie them in the standings with a loss Saturday – and Dallas would have the tiebreaker.
"Obviously, Saturday’s huge for us," Mavs guard Devin Harris said. "We’ve got to come out with that type of effort, knowing that our season’s on the line and it’s a game that we must have."
Phoenix (47-32) has already lost the season series with the Grizzlies even though those teams will meet Monday. The Mavericks don’t play again after Saturday until wrapping up the regular season at Memphis on Wednesday, when the Suns will visit Sacramento.
Phoenix likely must win out to reach the postseason.
"We don’t have much choice; our season is on the line," guard Eric Bledsoe said.
Bledsoe had 30 points and 11 rebounds Friday while finishing one assist shy of a triple-double, but the Suns blew a 21-point lead and lost 112-104 in San Antonio.
"We had too many good shots and good looks early," said Bledsoe, who committed seven of Phoenix’s 18 turnovers that led to 26 points for the Spurs. "We thought we were going to come in the second half and it was going to be easy like the first half and we just weren’t as aggressive or locked in."
Gerald Green added 27 points in his first start since March 12 and has averaged 23.5 on 52.1 percent shooting – 47.8 percent from 3-point range (22 for 46) – in his last six games. He had 22 off the bench in a 123-108 home win over Dallas on Dec. 21, but only 12 on 4-of-13 shooting as a starter in place of Bledsoe on Jan. 17 in a 110-107 home defeat.
Leading scorer Goran Dragic (20.5 points per game), who sat out Friday night’s loss with an ankle injury, is expected to play. He’s totaled 41 points and 12 assists in the two games against the Mavericks this season.
Dallas has been idle since a 109-100 home loss to San Antonio on Thursday that ended a four-game winning streak. If the Mavericks do make the playoffs, they surely would like to finish seventh in the West because the No. 8 seed would mean a first-round series against the Spurs. Dallas was swept in the four-game season series by San Antonio, which clinched the league’s best record by defeating the Suns on Friday.
"We’ve got to respond to how poorly we played, and there are a lot of similarities between the Spurs and the Suns, but the personnel is different," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle told the team’s website. "You can argue (the Suns) are a more physical team and in some ways even more athletic. So, hey, this is what it’s about, being able to bounce back from a bad night and you’ve got to make it a good night. That’s what our goal is going to be."
Monta Ellis had 24 points and Dirk Nowitzki added 19 for the Mavericks, who have dropped five of eight at home due to a porous defense that has yielded at least 100 points in every game and an average of 111.9.
Perimeter shooting has keyed both games in the season series. Phoenix made 15 of 30 from beyond the arc in its December victory while holding Dallas to 3 of 17. The Mavericks tightened up defensively in January, limiting the Suns to 7 of 22 from 3-point range while going 9 for 24 themselves.