The Mavericks said from the first day of training camp that the playoffs were their goal.
That target has been hit. At 39-25, their magic number for clinching a playoff berth is into single digits. They could be official playoff qualifiers in the next 10 days.
That’s great and all, but it’s the added bonus that should have the Mavericks excited about the final 18 games of the regular season.
They have a potentially heated, thrilling and cutthroat race for playoff positioning confronting them.
Utah, Houston, Oklahoma City and the Mavericks all are bunched within two games of each other – as of Sunday’s standings. While catching one of the top three teams (Lakers, Clippers, Nuggets) appears unlikely, those four teams have plenty to play for.
One of them will end up with a home-court berth in the first round of the playoffs. The others will be battling to avoid the No. 7 spot and a likely first round matchup against the Clippers – clearly a team that the Mavericks have not matched up well against so far this season.
The point is that every game from here on will take on added meaning.
“It’s fun to look at the standings and see we’re in the playoff race and we’re trying to increase our standing as opposed to the last couple years in New York,” said guard Courtney Lee, who unlike a lot of the younger Mavericks has been in many playoff pressure cookers. “It was difficult (in New York). It definitely is a good feeling to be back in that race.”
Lee, Kristaps Porzingis and Tim Hardaway Jr. never experienced the playoffs or anything close to it in their time with the Knicks. Hardaway has been in the playoffs previously with Atlanta. And Lee has played 50 playoff games, starting 41, including some in the NBA finals with Orlando as a rookie in 2009.
The Mavericks, who finish a three-game home stand Sunday against Indiana (6 p.m. tipoff) at American Airlines Center, have started to make headway recently when it comes to challenging for a better playoff spot.
They are seventh in the Western Conference, but Oklahoma City is just a half-game ahead of them and the Thunder are starting an eight game stretch with five of them against playoff teams Sunday night in Boston.
Houston and Utah both have been working through difficult issues lately although the Jazz appear to have turned things around lately with four consecutive wins.
The Mavericks? They’ve won seven of their last 10 and have a chance for their first five-game home-court winning streak of the season Sunday against the Pacers.
“There for a while we weren’t really playing well at home,” Justin Jackson said. “We were getting off to slow starts and wouldn’t really play as well. But, with playoff aspirations and things like that, home court is extremely important. So, we are trying to take that as seriously as we can to finish out this regular season and hopefully into the playoffs.”
Coach Rick Carlisle is stressing that, while keeping an eye on the standings at this time of the season is a good idea, it doesn’t trump the Mavs keeping their eye on the ball.
Taking things game by game and quarter by quarter should help the rest of the things fall into place.
“For us, we can have an end-goal, but this is a day-by-day process,” Porzingis said. “We’ll see where we end up at the end of the season and the next step is the playoffs.”
Briefly: The Mavericks hope to have Dorian Finney-Smith (hip), Tim Hardaway Jr. (illness) and Seth Curry (ankle) back against the Pacers, but won’t know for sure about any of them until Sunday . . . The Mavericks have a quick trip to San Antonio on Tuesday, which is the front end of a back-to-back as they return home the following night to play Denver. They then will have their first two-day respite since the All-Star break. After they play Denver, they will have had 12 games in 20 days since the break.
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