For the Dallas Mavericks, reaching the playoffs is not the ultimate goal; they want 2011 all over again. To make it to the finals, teams must beat whoever crosses their path. While it is nearly impossible to avoid the conference’s top teams, upsets can lead to many different possibilities.
Once the postseason rolls around all 16 teams that make the playoffs start with a clean slate. The teams are given a chance to make a run and eventually hoist the coveted Larry O’Brien Trophy.
As the Mavericks go forth into the playoffs, while they may not admit it, there are certainly a couple teams they’d prefer to face in the opening round of play.
Dallas currently sits at a lowly 1-6 in seven games against the top three teams in the West but is a more promising 4-3 in seven games against the No. 4 and 5 teams in the conference.
Realistically, the Mavericks will face the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers or Houston Rockets in the opening round of the postseason. So the question is: Which two would they rather face and which two do they want no part of?
Who They Want to Play
Oklahoma City Thunder
To many people, “wanting” to play the Thunder might sound ridiculous, and, yes, the Thunder are 12-2 against Dallas since the Mavs beat them 4-1 in the 2011 playoffs. However, out of the four likely first-round opponents for Dallas, the Thunder are surely in the top two.
The Mavericks are not worried about anything except this year, and so far this season, the Mavericks and Thunder have split their season series.
Since losing to the Thunder back in November, the Mavericks are a completely different team. They have gelled as a team and have Devin Harris and Brandan Wright back to help off the bench, not to mention a huge boost from Vince Carter.
The Thunder have more talent and three of the four best players between the two teams, but one major advantage that the Mavericks have is Rick Carlisle. The Mavs head coach will certainly have an edge over Thunder coach Scotty Brooks.
Playing the Thunder isn’t something a team wishes for, but, in the vaunted Western Conference, you have to take what you can get.
The Rockets and Mavericks split their four-game season series, and there is no denying they were all highly entertaining battles. Houston is no easy team to defend; Dwight Howard and James Harden are two of the most dominant players in the league at their respective positions. However, the most dangerous scoring threat when these teams are matched up has been Dirk Nowitzki.
The Rockets just cannot stop Dirk. The 7-footer has put together games of 22, 35, 31 and 38 points when playing Houston this year.
Neither team plays a whole lot of defense and both have players who can fill it up in a hurry. A Rockets-Mavericks playoff series would be one that Dallas would have to feel pretty good about leading up to it. If Dallas were to pick which of the four teams they wanted to face this postseason, the Rockets would be the easy decision.
Who They Want to Avoid
San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs, as per usual, are rarely talked about and continue to be written off as too old. However, for the 16th time in the last 17 years Popovich, Duncan and company have surpassed the 50-win mark. The one time in the past 17 years they did not achieve 50 wins? The lockout-shortened season of 1998-99 when the Spurs went 37-13.
So clearly no one wants to face the Spurs in the postseason. They are the best-coached team in the league and apparently do not age. Not only have the Spurs had success in recent years, but the Mavericks also just cannot handle them.
The Mavs are without a win against the Spurs this year and have been unable to slow down Popovich's offense. San Antonio is averaging over 113 points per game when playing Dallas.
Who Should the Mavericks Most Want to Play?
The Spurs are a team that can exploit a defense better than anyone else in the league and with that being the weakness of this Dallas team, they better hope to avoid the Spurs.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers are another team the Mavericks desperately need to avoid if they are hoping to make it out of the first round. So far, Dallas is without a win against the Clippers and has let up an average of 124 points per contest. Not to mention, the Clippers were without Chris Paul for half of the first meeting and for the entire second game.
There are not many teams who can stop the Clippers' high-powered attack, and the Mavericks are a team who certainly struggle with it. The combination of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan down low has given the Mavericks nightmares in their matchups.
A matchup with the Clippers in the opening round of the postseason would not only result in a disappointing finish, but it could be a very quick end as well.
None of these series would be considered easy for Dallas, but there are certainly some cases that are better than others. The Mavericks can certainly win at least one round in the playoffs this season and a more favorable matchup could be the key component to them advancing.
All statistics via basketball-reference.com.