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Mavericks Possible Playoff Opponents

As the Dallas Mavericks enter the final week of the regular season, they don’t have much to play for other than improving team chemistry and trying to reach the fifty-win mark for the first time since their championship campaign in 2010-2011.  They have clinched a playoff birth and will start their postseason run on the road as they are locked into the 7th seed in the Western Conference.  Their final three games are at the Lakers on Sunday, a trip to Salt Lake City to face the Jazz on Monday, and then wrapping the regular season up at home against the Trail Blazers on Wednesday.  The only thing in question about the Mavericks first-round series is who they will play.

Even with just a few days remaining in the regular season, no Western Conference first round match-up is set. The 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th and 8th seeds are all still up for grabs.  Sitting at 7th, the Mavericks would face the 2nd seed in the first round.  Here are the potential suitors for their first round playoff opponent.

Los Angeles Clippers (54-26):
Mon. vs. Denver & Wed. @ Phoenix
19-7 since the All-Star Break, Won 12 of last 13 overall.
Won season series against Mavs 2-1.
All three games in the regular season series were decided by at least 17 points.  Blake Griffin was only available for the first of the three meetings.  Tyson Chandler and Monta Ellis more or less missed the entirety of the second game after suffering injuries early in the first quarter of the Clippers’ February 9th win in Dallas.

Los Angeles would create some matchup problems for Dallas in the rebounding department.  Particularly against the Clippers super-athletic center, DeAndre Jordan.  The man leads the league in rebounding with an average just short of 15 a game.  No one has averaged that many boards a game since Kevin Love’s 15.2 per game in the 2010-2011 season.  Jordan even ramps it up more against Dallas with averages of 17 points and 20 rebounds per game this season.  Oh yeah, there’s also Chris Paul and Blake Griffin on this team.

Potential factors in Dallas’ favor are this “Lob-City” rendition of the Clippers (4th season together) having never been past the second round of the playoffs.  Why is that relevant in a first round series?  It just suggests that they’re not playoff-killers and aren’t immune to a slip-up.  Another factor that might help the Mavs is the talent that surrounds the Clippers Big Three. Dallas can definitely boast the better overall talent throughout their entire roster.  When rotations tighten in the playoffs, however, that might not play a huge factor.

Memphis Grizzlies (54-26):
Mon. @ Golden State & Wed. vs. Indiana
15-12 since the All-Star Break, 9-8 in March (played 11 playoff teams; went 6-5)
Won season series against Dallas 3-1.
Conventional wisdom has told most logical Mavericks fans to fear a first round matchup with Memphis because of the front line pairing of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol and the rebounding nightmares that would cause.  Their play since the All-Star Break hasn’t exactly been on fire.  Kind of hard to use that as a way to knock the Grizzlies’ chances in a series against the Mavs when the Mavs have only gone 12-12 since the break, but that’s what is happening here.

The biggest threat to any Memphis playoff run is health.  Four of their five starters have been on the injury report the last couple of weeks.  The most significant news is that Marc Gasol is out indefinitely after an ankle injury he sustained during Saturday night’s loss at the Clippers.  This Memphis team without Gasol might not even be a playoff caliber team in this Western Conference.

San Antonio Spurs (54-26)
Sun. vs. Phoenix & Wed. @New Orleans
19-7 since the All-Star Break; 10-game winning streak.
Split season series with Mavs 2-2.
The Spurs should be the title favorites right now.  They went from hovering around bottom three seeds in the West playoff picture all season to being the hottest team at the right time.

Another playoff edition of Mavs-Spurs would be a ton of fun for the fans of not just the teams, but the Dirk Nowitzki/Tim Duncan story.  How would this matchup go?  With the way the Spurs have been going lately, tough to say anyone has a chance against them.  However, this writer has always thought the key to Dallas’ chance in any series is whether or not they’d be able to hide Dirk Nowitzki’s flawed defense against a not as talented frontcourt player.  Tiago Splitter fits that description.  With Rajon Rondo in the mix, the Mavs are also more equipped to slow down Tony Parker than they were in last year’s playoffs.  In the two games between the Mavs and Spurs where both Rondo and Parker were playing this season, Parker averaged 10 points while going a combined 9-25 from the field in the two games.  He averaged 19.9 points per game on 46% shooting in last year’s epic first round battle between the I-35 rivals.

Houston Rockets (53-26)
Sun. vs. New Orleans, Mon. @Charlotte & Wed. vs. Utah
17-9 since the All-Star Break; Without Patrick Beverley and Donatas Montiejunas for playoffs.
Defeated Dallas 3-1 in season series.
This is the team Dallas desperately wants to play; whether they admit it or not.  Looking at the matchups: Point guard? Advantage Dallas.  Shooting guard? Advantage Houston.  Small Forward?  Advantage Dallas.  Power Forward? Advantage Dallas.  Center?  Advantage Houston.  Bench?  Advantage Dallas.  Coaching? Advantage Dallas.  Five advantages for Dallas and two for Houston.  Does Houston have the best player in the series by far?  Yes.  If Dallas can come up with a defensive strategy to just minimize the wonder that is James Harden, all the other things should fall in their favor.  Terrence Jones is another example of a player Dallas could hide Dirk on during defensive possessions.  With Houston losing its starting point guard in Beverley, a major role player in Montiejunas, and Dwight Howard never seeming like the Dwight Howard of before, it’s hard to see the Rockets being a team that makes the difficult transition of stellar regular season team to legitimate playoff threat.  Time will tell if this theory is correct.

Four possible opponents for Dallas, four days left in the regular season and still zero knowledge of who they will play.  With every potential opponent offering a zesty matchup, it will be a fun next couple of weeks for the Mavericks.  Possibly longer.

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