Things just got a bit interesting for the Dallas Mavericks in their quest to land one of the top six seeds in the Western Conference playoffs.
Following Tuesday’s 133-104 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, the Mavs are now 40-29 and tied with the Portland Trail Blazers in the West. And by virtue of Portland’s 2-1 series win over Dallas, the Blazers would have the No. 5 seed if the playoffs started today, and the Mavs would be in the No. 6 slot.
With the loss, the magic number for the Mavs to clinch one of the top six seeds and a berth in the playoffs remains at two. Any combination of wins by the Mavs and losses by the Los Angeles Lakers (39-30) that equals two will officially vault Dallas into the postseason party.
The Mavs host the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday, and also have games remaining against the Toronto Raptors and Minnesota Timberwolves. The Trail Blazers still have to play the Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns and Denver Nuggets, while the No. 7-seed Lakers — they beat the New York Knicks, 101-99, in overtime on Tuesday — have games left against the Houston Rockets, Indiana Pacers and Pelicans.
Memphis put Tuesday’s game comfortably away by outscoring the Mavs in the second half, 73-47.
“Obviously we didn’t play well over the course of the 48 minutes,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “A very disappointing loss, and we’ve got to get ready for tomorrow on a pretty quick turnaround.
“Nobody really played well. I don’t think there’s anybody that’s happy with the way they played, and we’ve got to win and lose as a team. We just got to get together and do a lot better tomorrow night.”
Against the Grizzlies, Tim Hardaway Jr. led the Mavs with 19 points, Willie Cauley-Stein contributed a season-high 16 points and eight rebounds, Jalen Brunson scored 15 points, and Luka Doncic finished with 12 points, five rebounds and five assists.
Doncic was just 4-of-16 from the field and uncharacteristically didn’t play like the dominant player that he is.
“That game was obviously one of the worst I’ve ever played,” Doncic said. “I’ve got to be better than that.
“That game today is on me. I wasn’t here. I wasn’t myself, so we got to bounce back.”
The upcoming playoffs and everything that it entails had to flash before the eyes of Mavs’ followers prior to halftime when Doncic went hurdling over a barrier and landed on his back on the concrete floor while trying to save a ball from going out of bounds. Doncic was apparently OK on the play, but right after that spill, Dillon Brooks nailed a 3-pointer at the buzzer to push Memphis ahead at the half, 60-57.
“We’ll see how it is tomorrow,” Doncic said of his back.
Ja Morant paced the Grizzlies with 24 points, seven rebounds and eight assists, Brooks tallied 22 points, John Konchar popped in 18 points, Kyle Anderson poured in 15 points, Brandon Clarke collected 14 points and nine boards, and Tyus Jones added 10 points.
Kristaps Porzingis missed his seventh straight game with right knee soreness, and JJ Redick left in the second quarter and did not return due to right heel soreness. Also, Dwight Powell was ejected early in the fourth quarter when he was assessed a Flagrant foul-penalty 2 for inadvertently hitting Clarke in the head.
The Mavs only trailed, 72-69, following a dunk by Willie Cauley-Stein with 6:40 remaining in the third quarter. But from there, Memphis ended the quarter on a 24-11 run with most of the damage coming from Morant, Anderson and Brooks.
Anderson buried a pair of baskets in the lane, and Morant also scored two hoops inside the paint as Memphis rolled to a 96-80 lead late in the third quarter.
In the third quarter along, the Grizzlies scored 11 fast break points after scoring just six in the first half. Memphis also turned seven third-quarter turnovers by the Mavs into 11 points.
“I give them credit,” Brunson said. “They just played really well. They hit a bunch of threes, and they scored off our mistakes.”
Thanks to some nifty early shooting, the Mavs broke out to a 25-17 lead with 3:26 remaining in the first quarter. But thanks to the flashy play of Morant, the Grizzlies ended the quarter on an 11-3 run and toted a slim 28-27 lead into the second period.
Doncic scored six points in the first quarter, while Morant tallied 11 points and pulled down five rebounds at that juncture.
“A key part of this was when we got in the first quarter we had an (eight-point) lead, they were able to finish the quarter on a 9-0 run to take the lead and they got the momentum from there,” Carlisle said. “We were never really able to get it back.”
Carlisle said he didn’t think the Mavs’ effort was good enough on a night when the Grizzlies shot 57.6 percent from the field and converted 16 of 33 shots from downtown while padding their record to 36-33.
“We had stretches where we played well, but it didn’t feel like there was a collective will for 48 minutes, and that’s what we’ve got to have,” Carlisle said. “We’re all disappointed.
“We know we’ve got to do better. To the extent that guys on the team are feeling like we’ve got things made, I don’t know and I certainly hope that’s not the case. These are NBA games and you’ve got to play them.”
Before the game, Carlisle said of the Blazers and Lakers, “The two teams that we’re up against, if you follow everything, they’re probably unlikely to lose. So we’ve got to control what we can control.”
Meanwhile, the second half definitely got out of control as the Grizzlies went on to snap the Mavs’ four-game winning streak.
“I don’t think we played well,” Doncic said. “They did great on defense. They were playing great offense, too.
“They had a helluva game and they obviously deserved this game over us.”
Going forward, now that winning the No. 5 seed out West is no longer in their control, the Mavs know if they just win two of their remaining three games they’ll hold off the Lakers for the No. 6 seed. But grabbing the No. 5 seed is also still in play, depending on what happens to Portland.
“I recognize the situation, and I’m pretty sure everyone is aware,” Brunson said. “I think as a team you don’t put pressure on ourselves and say, ‘If you win this, this will happen, so if you lose, this will happen.’
“You just go out there and play the best we can and control what we can control.”
Only the top six teams in each conference will advance to the playoffs, while teams seeded seven-10 will be part of the play-in tournament, which starts on May 18.
“We’re going to have our hands full in all these games,” Carlisle said. “That’s OK.
“This kind of challenge is what we need. But we’ve got to bear down and we’ve got to do better.”