Can Dallas Mavericks Steal the No. 8 Seed from the L.A. Lakers?

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 27, 2013

The Dallas Mavericks withstood a barrage of Chris Paul punches and survived with a 109-102 win over the visiting Los Angeles Clippers.

With the win, the Mavericks moved to within one game of the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Lakers.

It was hardly a position that Dallas looked like it was headed for. Paul connected on a go-ahead layup with just six seconds left in regulation. But O.J. Mayo tied the game at 97 after he worked himself out of a trap and dropped in a layup with just 0.6 seconds left in regulation.

Blake Griffin appeared to hit the game-winning basket on a twisting shot off of a three-quarter court pass, but the officials waived off Griffin's basket and assessed the big man with an offensive foul.

Nowitzki scored eight of Dallas' 12 points in overtime, including a stretch of six straight that transformed a one-point deficit at the 3:28 mark into a five-point lead with just 22.2 seconds left in the period. Matt Barnes had a chance to even the game with 22.9 seconds left, but failed to hit anything on his three-point attempt.

For Nowitzki, this game was another sign that the former MVP is closing in on 100 percent after working his way back to health from October arthroscopic knee surgery. He poured in a season-high 33 points (on 12-of-21 shooting from the field) and gobbled up a team-high nine rebounds.

Nowitzkie needed six games to hit the 20-point mark this season. He had just two 20-point outings to his credit over his first 17 games.

He's now scored at least 20 in 12 of his last 25 games. With their star player rounding into postseason form, the Mavericks have surged ahead in the Western Conference standings, having now won 22 of their last 35 games.

With Dallas playing its best basketball of the season, some speculated if it now has the Lakers looking over their shoulders:

Wonder if Lakers were watching Mavs-Clips ..Mavs look like like playoff team...They are gonna push Lakers until the end...

— Bill Plaschke (@BillPlaschke) March 27, 2013

Perhaps, the Lakers were too busy tending to their own affairs to take notice. L.A.'s playoff chances were dealt a massive blow on Wednesday night.
Metta World Peace, the only Lakers starter who had not missed a game this season due to injury, has a tear in the lateral meniscus in his left knee and is out indefinitely (according to Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times).

If the Lakers weren't paying attention, it's probably time that they should. L.A. (and the Utah Jazz, currently tied with Dallas) finish with a slightly more favorable schedule down the stretch:


Lakers and Jazz play 5 of final 11 against teams with winning records while Dallas plays 6 of final 11 against teams with winning records.

— Marc J. Spears (@SpearsNBAYahoo) March 27, 2013

But the Lakers can ill afford any stumbles in the near future as their schedule stiffens over the seasons' final weeks:

Final seven games, Mavs play two against teams with winning records, Lakers play five against teams with winning records...

— Bill Plaschke (@BillPlaschke) March 27, 2013

Not to mention that an untimely ceremony has the potential to divert some L.A. attention when these two teams square off next week:

Lakers host Mavs next week on Shaq jersey retirement night...bad timing...probably not the best night for a focused Kobe..

— Bill Plaschke (@BillPlaschke) March 27, 2013


Between the adjustments necessitated by World Peace's injury and the team's struggles of late—three straight losses—it's hard to picture the Lakers holding off the Mavericks right now. Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni still hasn't figured out how to utilize Pau Gasol, and that rocky relationship may rear its ugly head down the stretch now that another frontcourt player is removed from the rotation.

While D'Antoni's dealing with a cupboard growing increasingly barren, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle continues to fine-tune his rotation. Since inserting veteran, and D-League call-up, Mike James into his starting lineup, the Mavericks are 8-3.

James and Darren Collison make up a formidable two-man point guard rotation in Carlisle's lineup. First-year Maverick Mayo and veteran Vince Carter provide the scoring punch from the wing, while Jae Crowder, Shawn Marion, Elton Brand and Brandan Wright help set the defensive tone.

It's tough to bet against Kobe Bryant.

But it's getting even harder to bet on Bryant's hobbled supporting cast.