If the NBA season were a horse race, the Mavericks would have broken very slowly out of the gate, but rallied to put themselves in contention coming into the stretch drive.
Now, as they round the turn for the final quarter of the regular season, what do they have to do to loom as a large threat a bit more than a month from now when the playoffs star?
First of all, they must heed the words of their coach.
“Right now, with (under) 20 games left, every play is meaningful,” Rick Carlisle said. “And a lot of what this comes down to is simple execution. Playing a simple, execution style. We’re going to have to be better in those areas.”
Concentration. Attention to detail. Playing absolutely as hard as possible.
Those are the three ingredients that will help the Mavericks get out of the No. 7 seed and into a more advantageous spot in the playoff race.
It’s not a farfetched notion.
As of Tuesday, the Mavericks were 29-24 as they prepare for an important divisional game at Memphis Wednesday (8:30 p.m. tipoff). They are in seventh place in the Western Conference, two games behind No. 6 Portland and 3 ½ behind the fifth-place Los Angeles Lakers.
The Blazers have the tiebreaker against the Mavericks. The tiebreaker with the Lakers is to be decided by the two games at American Airlines Center later this month.
They are 1½ games ahead of No. 8 Memphis.
These may seem like close races, but with only 19 games left on their schedule, making up ground is not going to be easy. If their closest foes go .500 the rest of the way, the Mavericks will have to win at a lot greater pace than they have lately if they want to pass anybody.
They’ve lost three of four, stalling their momentum of a five-game winning streak before that created.
However, injuries to the teams ahead of them could have a major impact on the final 19 games.
Denver has lost Jamal Murray for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, but the Nuggets have a 4½ game lead on the Mavericks. It’s unlikely they would lose that cushion when they have just 18 games left.
The Lakers remain without Anthony Davis and LeBron James, but recently scrapped out a win against Brooklyn.
The bottom line is that the final 19 games should provide great theater and the Mavericks, in spite of some ugly losses recently, are right in the mix to move up in the conference standings.
Of course, their prime competitors have the same thing in mind. The Mavericks still are trying to make up for a lot of bad losses earlier in the season, some that were out of their control thanks to COVID-19.
And so, as Carlisle said, it will come down to making every play matter. Execute more of them than the other guy, and your odds get better.
Briefly: The Mavericks used Tuesday as a travel day to Memphis after back-to-back games. They have only one two-day break the rest of the season, which comes Monday and Tuesday next week. Even with that, they play their final 19 games in a span of 33 days.