This has been one of the wildest regular seasons in recent Mavs history. The campaign started with a 9-4 burst and so far has ended with a 7-1 sprint to the finish, and nothing in between failed to provide drama, fireworks, or both.
It’s only fitting, then, that a season which took so many twists and turns has one more big one in store for this team: Dallas won’t know who it’s playing in the postseason until around midnight.
The fifth, sixth, and seventh seeds are all still in play, which means the Mavericks’ potential opponents in Round One include the Clippers (fourth), Thunder (third), and Spurs (second). Each series would produce its own unique set of storylines: Dallas and San Antonio have squared off in the postseason six times before, the Mavs and OKC have faced off twice, and the DeAndre Jordan saga generated all sorts of hot sports opinions around the country for weeks.
The Mavs can only play one of them in the first round, though, and one of the crazier things about this team’s destiny is that — no matter how in control it was even two days ago — the team’s fate isn’t necessarily in its own hands anymore. What happens elsewhere this evening involving Memphis and Portland has just as much to do with the playoffs as what happens in Dallas.
Here’s your guide to scoreboard-watching tonight.
The Mavs beat the Spurs in Dallas tonight AND the Blazers lose in Portland to the Nuggets.
Portland has a sparkling 27-13 home record this season, but there’s no such thing as a sure thing in today’s NBA. It’s important to point out that if the Mavericks win tonight, they can finish no lower than sixth in the West. Currently tied in the standings with the Grizzlies at 42-39, Dallas owns the tiebreaker between the two clubs and would clinch a higher seed should their records match. Memphis is in Golden State tonight as the Warriors go for the single-season wins record.
If both Dallas and Memphis win AND Portland loses, the three teams would finish with the same record but Dallas would earn the higher seed based on combined winning percentage against both teams. The Mavs went 2-1 against Portland and 3-1 against Memphis and would therefore earn the fifth seed.
First round opponent: Clippers
Portland wins OR Memphis loses.
The Blazers lead the Mavs by one game in the standings, so a Portland win would guarantee Dallas would finish sixth or lower, independent of the Mavs/Spurs result. Similarly, if the Grizzlies lose, the Mavs could not finish beneath them in the standings based on the tiebreaker rule.
This doesn’t mean the result of Dallas/San Antonio isn’t important. The Mavs can do themselves a huge favor by winning tonight, as their game tips off at 7 p.m. Central while both Portland and Memphis tip off at 9:30 p.m. Central. If Dallas wins tonight, it will put a heavy amount of pressure on the Blazers to win their game.
First round opponent: Thunder
Dallas loses AND Memphis wins.
If the Mavs lose tonight AND the Grizzlies win at Golden State, the Mavs will finish in seventh place and have showdown No. 7 against Tim Duncan and the Spurs. That would be a great series within the context of history — there aren’t many legends who have faced off seven times in the postseason like Dirk and Duncan would, in this scenario — but the Spurs would also be the most difficult matchup based on record.
The Grizzlies have a tall task tonight in Oakland, where the Warriors have lost just twice in 40 games this season. Still, Memphis took a 2-1 series lead in last season’s second-round matchup thanks in large part to a win at Oracle Arena, so there is a bit of a precedent there. Anything can happen, which is why it’s best for Dallas to take care of business tonight at home.
First round opponent: Spurs
So there you go. On the busiest night of basketball all season, only three games matter to the Mavs’ fate. However, depending on the Mavs/Spurs result, only one of those other games will matter. If Dallas wins, keep your eye on Portland. If the Mavs lose, pay attention to Memphis.
Either way, we’re in for a heck of a ride on the last night of a crazy, crazy season.