The Dallas Mavericks are on the verge of clinching the Southwest Division and trying to secure the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. Finishing in that coveted position may not help the Mavs if they face the Portland Trail Blazers in the opening round of the playoffs.
Dallas has a chance to lock up the division Friday night when it visits a Portland team it has yet to defeat this season.
The Mavs (51-27) are battling Utah, Denver and Phoenix for the No. 2 spot, while Portland (48-30), San Antonio and Oklahoma City are tied for sixth in the conference.
Dallas can clinch the Southwest by beating Portland and having the Spurs lose to Memphis on Friday. Defeating the Blazers, though, has been a difficult task for the Mavs.
Portland has won all three meetings, holding Dallas to 43.6 percent shooting. In the last matchup at the Rose Garden on March 25, the Mavs were limited to 35 second-half points in a 101-89 defeat that gave Portland its first season series win over Dallas since 1998-99.
The Mavs showed some improvement Wednesday night, avoiding a third straight loss with a 110-84 home win over the Grizzlies. It was the fewest points allowed by Dallas since also giving up 84 in a win at Charlotte on March 1.
Coach Rick Carlisle’s focus at practice this week was on improving a defense that had allowed 100-plus points in seven of the previous 11 games.
“We needed to play better basketball,” Carlisle said. “Any win you can get right now is precious. It’s a positive step. I thought we were more solid (defensively) than we’ve been the last few games.”
Dallas improved to 6-6 since the end of a season-best, 13-game winning streak.
Portland continued its strong play with a 93-85 road win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday night. LaMarcus Aldridge(notes) had 27 points and 12 rebounds, and Brandon Roy(notes) scored 23 as the Blazers won for the 16th time in 20 games and moved up two spots in the West.
“We feel like if we finish out strong, we could easily go to sixth,” Aldridge said. “But it doesn’t really matter. Every series is going to be hard, but you have to finish strong for your own sake, not for who you play.”
Portland has reached the playoffs for the second consecutive season after a five-year drought.
“All we’ll do is keep playing, and when the official standings come out, we’ll figure out what we have to do,” Roy said. “You can’t be worried about where you match up or who you want to play.”
The Blazers play three of their last four at home, where they have won six straight. Dallas is opening a three-game trip before hosting San Antonio in its finale.