Though the Dallas Mavericks might go into the playoffs feeling fine physically, it seems very possible they won’t feel nearly as good mentally.
Dallas could lose any shot it still had at claiming the Western Conference’s second seed and get caught for the third spot if its losing streak reaches five Friday night against the visiting Los Angeles Clippers.
The Mavericks (53-25) had been in second place in the West for much of the season, but recent struggles have dropped them two games behind the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers would wrap up the No. 2 seed Friday if they beat Portland and Dallas loses to the Clippers.
Even the third seed is now in jeopardy for the Mavericks with a one-game lead on Oklahoma City, which hosts Denver on Friday.
“I don’t think it does any good to watch (the standings) now,” said Dirk Nowitzki(notes), who has missed 16 of his last 20 3-point attempts. “We’ve got to start playing better and feel good about ourselves going into the playoffs.”
Since March 5, Dallas joins Atlanta as the only playoff-bound teams with sub-.500 records. The Mavericks are 8-9 in that span - following an 18-1 stretch - and riding a four-game skid during which they’ve averaged 91.5 points, about eight below their season average.
Coach Rick Carlisle, for one, isn’t ready to panic. He had 38-year-old point guard Jason Kidd(notes) take the night off Wednesday and gave center Tyson Chandler(notes) a second straight game off to recover from a bruised back.
“Right now, with our team, we’re not about measuring sticks,” Carlisle said. “It’s about getting our physical and mental disposition where it needs to be and move forward feeling like we’re making progress.”
Team owner Mark Cuban said before Wednesday’s game that the players being rested is more important than gaining the third seed. Even if Carlisle chooses to rest anyone Friday, he certainly should be expecting a victory.
The Mavs have won nine straight and 15 of 16 against the Clippers, including three this season. Los Angeles (31-48) has dropped eight in a row at Dallas and has the West’s second-worst road record at 9-30.
The Clippers, though, have been playing well. They defeated Oklahoma City on Saturday, won at eighth-place Memphis on Tuesday and gave the Northwest Division champion Thunder a good run again Wednesday before falling 112-108.
“I like the way we hung in there,” coach Vinny Del Negro said. “We gave ourselves a chance and that’s what you want to do on the road.”
Blake Griffin(notes) had 35 points and 11 rebounds for his 61st double-double, three fewer than Dwight Howard(notes) and Kevin Love(notes) for the league lead. Griffin is winding down his Rookie of the Year campaign in impressive fashion, averaging 24.8 points and 13.8 rebounds over the last eight games.