DALLAS — The Dallas Mavericks romped over the Cleveland Cavaliers 124-97 on Sunday to collect their 40th win of the season and deliver a special holiday present for all the MFFL moms all across the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.
The victory was especially sweet considering Kristaps Porziņģis missed yet another game due to injury and Luka Dončić was forced to exit early following a comical ejection. Without their stars, the Dallas role players persevered and delivered another win for the surging Mavs.
Dallas now finds themselves on a four-game winning streak and in a dogfight to maintain a minuscule lead for the fifth spot in the Western Conference standings.
The late-season drama of Dončić being on the verge of a technical foul suspension, Porziņģis’ continued availability issues, and Jalen Brunson and Tim Hardaway Jr. stepping up in their absence has made the last week of NBA regular season must-see action.
There are four games left on the Mavs schedule and the Portland Trailblazers are breathing down their necks.
Portland (40-29) remains a half-game back of Dallas with three games left on their ledger. However, the Blazers have a particularly daunting slate to close out their regular season, with their remaining matchups coming against the first (Utah), second (Phoenix), and fourth (Denver) seeded teams in the Western Conference.
The Mavericks couldn’t count on the worst team in Texas to do them any favors. The Rockets are at the bottom of the NBA standings with a league-worst 53 losses on the year and Portland came away with a win against Houston on Monday night to keep pace with the Mavericks. With no love coming up from I-45, Dallas will be hoping for a loss to at least one of the top Conference stalwarts for the City of Roses.
Regardless, Dallas still has their fate in their own hands as they need two wins in their final four games to clinch a guaranteed playoff position and avoid the play-in tourney.
Tuesday, May 11, 7:00 pm @ Memphis
The Mavericks square off against 2019–20 Rookie of the Year Ja Morant and the Grizzlies on Tuesday evening where they will face a motivated but reeling Memphis (34-33) squad who have lost three out of five games in May. Memphis is currently ranked ninth in the West, with just a half-game separating them and eighth-place Golden State.
Getting to at least the eighth seed in the West would give the Grizzlies a second opportunity to advance and avoid the single-elimination game for the ninth and tenth place teams in the play-in tourney. Porziņģis is already confirmed as unavailable for this effort but may return to the lineup when the Mavs fly home.
Wednesday, May 12, 8:00 pm vs. Pelicans
New Orleans (31-37) arrives in Dallas while likely just out of reach of catching San Antonio (32-35) for the tenth seed. This one had all the makings for a fun matchup between 20-year-old phenom Zion Williamson (27.0 PPG) and 22-year-old Dončić (28.2 PPG) but the Pelicans’ young standout is injured.
Nevertheless, Dallas will be looking to cement their grasp on a guaranteed playoff spot. If Dallas wins these first two matchups, they will be confirmed for at least the sixth seed and can begin preparing for the playoffs, making any decisions needed on Hardaway Jr's starting spot inconsequential for the remainder of the regular season.
Thursday, May 14, 8:00 pm vs. Raptors
The last regular-season home game at the American Airlines Center may end up being quite an important night. The Raptors (27-41) sit four and a half games back of Indiana for the tenth seed in the East, which means they have been officially eliminated from postseason consideration.
With Toronto assured to miss the playoffs, should the Mavericks lose either of their earlier games in the week, taking advantage of a demotivated Raptors team could be paramount to avoiding the tourney and improving their seed in the West.
Sunday May 16 TBD @ Minnesota
Like Toronto, the Timberwolves (21-47) are also not making the playoffs. It has been an extremely tough season for Minnesota as star player Karl Anthony Towns lost six family members due to COVID-19 complications and ended up contracting it himself, missing 13 games on his road to recovery.
No one wants to lose, but it could be in Minnesota’s best interests to do just that. Entering the week, Minnesota has the league’s fourth-worst record and going as low as they can greatly improve their odds of securing a top pick in the draft through the NBA’s lottery system.
If the Timberwolves don’t finish with a top-three pick in the draft, they lose the right to choose a player altogether, as they will relinquish that choice to the Golden State Warriors as part of the 2020 trade that sent Andrew Wiggins to the Bay and D’Angelo Russell to Minnesota.
Dallas will be hoping to make this an inconsequential game for themselves and gain the ability to use it as a tuneup to look at different lineups and get ready for their first-round opponent, with a potential matchup against Nikola Jokic and the fourth-seeded Denver Nuggets on the horizon if they can outlast Portland.
As things stand, if the Mavericks end up getting leapfrogged by Damian Lillard and the Blazers, their likely reward is a rematch from last summer in the bubble against Kawhi Leonard and the currently third-seeded Los Angeles Clippers.
The Clippers (45-23) and the Nuggets (44-24) are in a virtual dead heat of their own, so be ready for the final week of the regular season to continue the drama as the musical chairs are finally sorted.
Do you think the Mavericks will be able to finish off the regular season in style and avoid the play-in tournament? Make your predictions with Irvin on Twitter @Twittirv.