The Dallas Mavericks have been spiraling downward, headed for yet another major meltdown.
Two years ago they lost an NBA Finals that they should have swept. Last year they were bounced from the playoffs in the first round by an eight seed.
And this season, they have been unable to close games or defeat any team with a winning record.
To add to their problems, Mavs star Dirk Nowitzki went down last week with a high ankle sprain and a sprained knee. Jerry Stackhouse has also been benched due to injury; he is struggling to heal a strained groin, always a tricky injury.
All signs are steering the Mavs straight out of the playoffs this year, but do not count them out just yet. The Mavs will not decide their fate alone.
Currently the seventh seed in the West, the Mavericks are in control.
Closely chasing them are the Golden State Warriors and Denver Nuggets. These two teams are precisely the reasons Dallas should not panic.
Yes, the Mavericks recently lost to each team, and they have been embarrassed by the Warriors multiple times in the past few years, but they will not meet either of these two teams in the playoffs.
More important are the remaining schedules of each team. Dallas, at No. 7, has eight games remaining, and an even split of four home and four away, just like the No. 9 Denver Nuggets.
The Warriors have nine games left, and five of these come on the road.
But the Mavs have six games left against winning teams, compared to the Warriors' five and the Nuggets' four.
Looking at this list it would appear that Dallas is most likely to rack up losses, especially considering its struggles against winning teams. But the Nuggets and Warriors have also battled when facing these strong squads.
The Nuggets have played the best of late, but they have been playing struggling teams, such as the Mavs.
The Warriors have played better as well, but have a very tough remaining schedule at San Antonio, Dallas, New Orleans, and Phoenix.
The Mavs, while struggling, have their remaining tough games at home, which should help. And Dirk's return will likely happen in the next week.
Even then, though, the Mavericks are still fighting an uphill battle. They appear to be the worst of these three teams by far.
Josh Howard and Jason Kidd have stepped up in the past few games, but have only produced a pair of wins in Dirk's absence against a horrible Clipper team.
But before all the seeds have been finalized at the season's end, count on one thing happening for sure. The Houston Rockets will enter the chaotic race for a playoff berth, though they have struggled since their streak ended and have six of their nine remaining games on the road.
The Dallas Mavericks look to be the odd team out right now. But the returns of Dirk and Stackhouse could refuel them and send them into the playoffs a very dangerous team, leaving the Warriors, Nuggets, or even the Rockets waiting until next season.