The Mavericks have lost three out of four after Monday’s 113-95 setback against Philadelphia, and they are looking more and more like a team that is going to have to survive the NBA’s play-in games to get into the playoffs.
That’s not sitting too well with anybody, particularly Luka Dončić, who was asked about how concerned he was about the team.
“I don’t understand the idea of the play-in (tournament),” he said. “You play 72 games to get in the playoffs, then maybe you lose two in a row and you’re out of the playoffs.
“I don’t see the point of that.
“We’re just trying to get to the sixth spot. That’s our goal right now. Maybe more than the sixth spot.”
The NBA introduced the play-in tournament last season when the league reconvened at the bubble to complete a shortened regular season. The idea was to give any team within a reasonable range of the eight-team playoff seedings in each conference a chance to win their way into the postseason.
This season, the format has changed slightly. Nos. 7 and 8 will play each other in each conference, with the winner earning the seventh seed. The Nos. 9 and 10 teams will play each other, with the winner playing the loser of the 7-8 game to determine the No. 8 seed.
As things stand right now, the No. 7 Mavericks would have to win a play-in game against No. 8 seeded Memphis or, if they lost, against either San Antonio or Golden State, who are ninth and 10th.
Not exactly a slam-dunk either way.
“I don’t think nobody wants to be in the play-in games,” said Dorian Finney-Smith. “You work hard to get into a good seed and then you still got to play to get in the playoffs. I don’t think anybody wants to be in that spot because anything goes in one game.”
At the moment, three teams in the Southwest Division, the Mavericks, Memphis and San Antonio, would be in the play-in games with Golden State.
That obviously could change in the final month-plus of the season. But the 29-24 Mavericks trail No. 6 Portland by two games. Plus, the Blazers have the tiebreaker advantage with two wins over the Mavericks this season. So the Mavericks would have to pass them to finish sixth. It’s also possible that the Los Angeles Lakers could be caught if they continue to slide with their injury problems.
Clearly, the play-in is not the most ideal scenario and it makes games like Wednesday’s in Memphis all the more meaningful.
Waiting his turn: You’ve seen those billboards about how roles change and sometimes we take care of our kids and other times they take care of us?
It’s kind of the same way for Trey Burke.
When he joined the Mavericks before the league resumed play in the bubble last summer, he was brought in to essentially replace the injured Jalen Brunson.
And Burke did a terrific job, averaging 12 points during the eight regular-season games and 12.3 points in the playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers.
But things have changed this season. Brunson is back healthy and having a splendid season. The playing time has been sporadic for Burke.
And yet, he’s had moments. On Sunday, for instance, Burke got some second-quarter minutes and had a steal from Spurs’ big man Drew Eubanks that turned into a Brunson bucket started the Mavericks on a 20-13 surge to close out the half. Burke also had a 3-pointer in that run.
Those moments indicate that the Mavericks still have a legitimate weapon in Burke when the time is right for him.
“I’m not,” coach Rick Carlisle said when asked if he was concerned about Burke. “A full NBA season is quite different than being signed at the last minute to come into the bubble. Basically, he was out on the street. We were a team that was recruiting him aggressively.
“We ended up having a great situation for him. He was ready to play. He was in shape. He’d actually been through a COVID situation before entering the bubble and came in and got started in a big way with 31 or 32 points against Houston in the opening game. And he just had it going.”
This season, it’s been more challenging to get Burke into a groove.
“Now we have Brunson in the fold,” Carlisle said. “And so the minutes distribution is certainly different. But he’s been very effective in a number of games and helped us win a number of games.
“He keeps himself ready to go. He’s got a high spirit. He’s in the gym all the time, working on his game and staying ready.”
Lamenting Spurs’ loss: The Mavericks clearly were still smarting from Sunday’s gut-punch from DeMar DeRozan, whose jumper with half-a-second left gave the Spurs a 119-117 victory over the Mavericks.
But it wasn’t necessarily the final play that did in the Mavericks.
“One possession games are tough,” Carlisle said. “They come down to the very end and there’s a lot of focus on what happens at the very end.
“But we had a lot of mistakes along the way. We had two or three mistakes per quarter, each of which cost us a couple points. There were some missed free-throw block-outs. There were opportunities to take fouls in transition that we didn’t take advantage of and a couple other end-of-quarter defensive things.”
The point was that miscues earlier in the game can have just as much of an impact at crunch time as the final plays.