It's almost like a postseason series for the franchise that hasn't won a playoff game since taking the title in 2011. Except the first four games are on the road. And the Mavericks likely will have to win more than four to make sure they advance.
''It's pretty clear,'' Nowitzki said Wednesday, a day after an overtime loss to Golden State that at least temporarily left the Mavericks a half-game out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. ''Win the next game, leave it all out there.''
Dallas certainly left it all out there against the Warriors, but didn't get the win.
Golden State got a tying 3-pointer from Klay Thompson in regulation and the winning jumper from Stephen Curry in overtime for a 122-120 victory that left the Mavericks with alternating wins and losses on a franchise-record eight-game homestand when they needed something better for their playoff hopes.
It wasn't much consolation when the league said in a statement Wednesday that Jermaine O'Neal's block on a shot by Monta Ellis before Curry's winner should have been ruled goaltending.
''We just watched it again and it's tough,'' said Nowitzki, who scored 33 points in the loss. ''We're grinding and making tough plays to get leads. And then just missing assignments after assignments, they get wide-open shots, they get layups and all the hard work is out the window.''
The Mavericks went 1-3 against playoff-bound teams in the final five games of the unusual home stretch. That included a loss to the Clippers, the opponent on Thursday night in Los Angeles. With another loss to Chris Paul and company, Dallas will have no choice but to beat the suddenly moribund Lakers in the same arena a night later.
''It's do or die in my opinion. Each game,'' said Vince Carter, who matches Nowitzki with 16 seasons in the league and hasn't won a playoff game since Orlando lost to Boston in the East finals in 2010. ''We're capable of being in the playoffs.''
Phoenix and Memphis - the final two opponents of the season for Dallas - started Wednesday tied for the final two playoff spots in the West. What made the loss to Golden State even tougher for the Mavericks was missing the opportunity to pull the Warriors into the same pack.
Instead, Golden State took a little cushion into the second night of a back-to-back at San Antonio on Wednesday.
''We can't be spending a lot of time deliberating about the past now,'' Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. ''We've got to move forward and we've got to do better.''
The Mavericks didn't have a realistic shot late last season when they missed the playoffs for the first time since Nowitzki's second season in 1999-2000. And they never really had much of a chance against the league's best teams.
Dallas has looked like a dangerous playoff opponent at times this year, beating Oklahoma City twice since the All-Star break to take the season series and winning both games against Indiana.
But there were troubling signs on the long homestand against teams going nowhere. The Mavericks struggled to beat Boston, did lose to Minnesota and had to rally from five points down in the fourth quarter against lowly Sacramento after leading by 17 in the first half.
''I think we can beat anybody on any given night on the road or at home and we can also to lose everybody,'' Nowitzki said. ''That's the makeup of our team. If we're not 100 percent in it and scrambling for each other, we're going to be in trouble.''
Dallas' playoff hopes are shaky as it is.
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