Handicapping the Odds of the Dallas Mavericks Making the Playoffs

Ross Bentley@@imrossbentleySenior Analyst IApril 4, 2013

Still alive. 

That's all the Dallas Mavericks can keep telling themselves, even after their crippling loss last night against the Los Angeles Lakers

Despite the loss, Dallas is still in the mix with eight games left before the playoffs as they sit two and a half games behind the Jazz for the final spot in the Western Conference playoff race. 

At 36-38, the Mavericks' season has been a whirlwind from start to finish. In the preseason, they had to deal with the Delonte West incident, Dirk Nowitzki's injury and the personalities of several new players. 

Dallas had to play the first third of their season without Dirk in the lineup, and then had to make significant adjustments when he returned in late December. 

Rick Carlisle then had to try and find a way to get his team in contention despite the fact that they were one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA, and had several players in their rotation who were well past their prime.

Nevertheless, even after the missed opportunity to close the gap last night, the Mavericks' playoff dreams are still alive. 

Dirk is finally playing the basketball we are used to seeing from him at a superstar level, while the role players and even the defense has been much improved over the last several weeks.

Twice now, the Mavericks have had a chance to finally shave and get back to the .500 mark, but they have come up short.

They have eight games left, five against teams under .500 and four at home. So the question is, do the Mavericks still have a legitimate shot at this thing?

While Dallas is certainly still breathing, they may be on life support after last night. A win there would have put the Mavericks even in the loss column with the Lakers and just a game away from the Jazz. Instead they now must do what they have been doing all season, overcome adversity and try to climb their way back up the standings. 

From a logistics standpoint, the Mavericks have to feel pretty good about their schedule for the remaining eight games. 

Their next game is not going to be easy, as they must travel to Denver to play the red hot Nuggets. After that, however, four out of their next five are very winnable games against teams with little left to play for at this point in the season.

If Dallas can string together a 4-2 record in their next six games, it will put them back at .500 at 40-40 with two games left, both at home against Memphis and New Orleans.

The Memphis game will be difficult, as the Grizzlies may very well be playing for home court advantage in the playoffs. New Orleans isn't a walk in the park either, as they will be looking to play spoiler. However, when a team is hungry like the Mavericks are, you have to give them the benefit of the doubt, especially playing on their home court.

A 42-40 record would give Dallas hope that the Jazz and Lakers fade and they could sneak into that final spot. The issue is that the Mavericks have a huge disadvantage staring them in the face.

Not only will the Mavs need to pull even with the Jazz and Lakers, but they will actually have to pass them to make the playoffs. 

Unfortunately, Dallas just hasn't played particularly well against either Utah or Los Angeles this year, and both teams hold the tiebreaker over the Mavericks if it came down to that.

Assuming Dallas does go 6-2 to end the year (which may even be wishful thinking) to finish above .500, it would take collapses by both the Lakers and Jazz for Dallas to pull off a playoff spot.

Los Angeles has seven games left in the season. The good news for Mavericks fans is that five of those seven games come against teams over .500. The bad news is that six of their remaining seven games will be played in the confines of the Staples Center.

Utah, on the other hand, has four of their remaining seven against teams over .500, including their game tonight against Denver.  In that stretch the Jazz play four times at home and three times on the road. 

Even putting Dallas at 42-40, knowing that the Lakers and Jazz both hold tiebreakers over the Mavericks would mean that both of them would have to go 2-5 or worse in their final seven games. And that's just hoping the Mavs play well enough to get to 6-2 over their final eight games. 

The Mavericks have shown no real consistency to prove that they can put together a stretch like that. Every time Dallas seems to have things figured out this year, they fall back and have to try to pick themselves up. 

Maybe if Dallas was only looking up at one team, an epic collapse or herculean finish could catapult them into the eight spot. However, the fact that Dallas is currently in tenth place, essentially three and a half games out and with only eight games to work with, it would take a minor miracle at this point for the Mavericks' 12-year playoff streak to continue in 2013.

Odds: 70-1


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