For a coach whose team can be the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference, Rick Carlisle wants more from his Dallas Mavericks.
The Mavericks try to stave off Phoenix and Utah for the spot that guarantees home-court advantage through two rounds Wednesday night when they close their season against the San Antonio Spurs.
Dallas (54-27) has already clinched the Southwest Division, which guarantees it home-court advantage for at least the first round. The Mavericks lead both the Suns and the Jazz by one game, but they only hold a tiebreaker over the Suns, which leaves Dallas at risk for slipping to third with a loss to San Antonio and a victory by Utah over Phoenix.
This game likely will serve as a potential first-round preview since a Mavericks victory would relegate the Spurs (50-31) to the seventh seed. Dallas has won four straight and seven of nine after a 117-94 rout of the Clippers on Monday capped a sweep of its three-game road trip, but Carlisle thinks his team still has work to do before being confident about its playoff chances.
“I am not sure if our team is where it needs to be for the playoffs,” the coach said. “We came here tonight wanting and needing to win. Our team wants that second spot in the playoffs. We need to work on our rebounding if we want to play great basketball. We need to take positive steps to get good results. We have better players, I know we can get far if we play together.”
Star forward Dirk Nowitzki(notes), though, appears to already be in playoff mode. He scored 25 points in the win over the Clippers and is averaging 30.3 points and 8.5 rebounds his last eight games while shooting 50 percent overall and 70 percent (14 for 20) from 3-point range. Nowitzki also has made a franchise-record 72 consecutive free throws heading into this game.
While the Mavericks have multiple scenarios that can place them second or third in the West, the Spurs (50-31) will finish either sixth or seventh. San Antonio needs a win and a loss by Portland to Golden State to claim the No. 6 seed.
The Spurs have won six of eight heading into this game and ripped lowly Minnesota 133-111 on Monday to clinch their 11th straight 50-win season. Eight players scored in double figures, all 12 scored at least four points and no Spurs player logged more than 25 minutes, leaving them well-rested for this game.
Coach Gregg Popovich’s team seems unfazed by starting the postseason on the road given the lack of separation among the eight playoff-bound teams. The top-seeded Lakers have 57 victories heading into their finale, while eighth-seeded Oklahoma City has a chance for win No. 50 on Wednesday.
“As much as people say we had a bad season, the race is still close,” Spurs guard George Hill(notes) said. “It’s just a couple games away from other people. I think we’re ready to battle anybody in the West.”
Dallas has won the last two games between the teams, including a 112-103 victory Jan. 8 at San Antonio as Nowitzki overcame a slow start to score 16 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter and rally the Mavericks from a 10-point deficit in the final period.