Memphis was at full strength for only one of those games, and that was way back on Nov. 2, when the Grizzlies were stumbling out of the gates at the beginning of the season.
The Mavs had the good fortune to face the Grizzlies while Memphis was missing one of its stars in the other two meetings. Center Marc Gasol missed the Grizzlies’ Dec. 18 loss in Dallas. Point guard Mike Conley sat out when the Mavs won at FedExForum on Feb. 5.
“This time around, they look like a playoff team,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “It’s going to be a tough game. That’s all right. The more tough games we can play headed into the playoffs, that should help us. We’re going to have to be ready.”
The Grizzlies have had to be one of the best teams in the league since the calendar flipped to 2014 to earn a playoff spot in the West. Memphis was 13-17 on Dec. 31, including 10-13 without Gasol. Since then, the Grizzlies are 36-15, with only the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers posting a better record in that span.
1. How much of a difference does it make whether the Mavs face the Thunder or Spurs?
Gutierrez: It makes a dramatic difference. Dallas has the advantage in coaching and bench support against Oklahoma City. At best, they're even in those categories against San Antonio. The Spurs struggle against younger and athletic teams. No one will confuse the Mavericks as either of those. Dallas has lost nine straight to their neighbors to the south. Meanwhile, the recent run of success against the Thunder should give the Mavericks more confidence if they were to matchup in the first round. I think a series against San Antonio would be death by paper cuts, while a series against Oklahoma City would potentially be death by technical knockout.
Taylor: The Mavs really have no chance to beat San Antonio in a seven-game series. The Spurs are too disciplined and too good offensively and defensively for the Mavs to beat them. The have virtually no chance to beat Oklahoma City, but it's more of a chance than they have to beat San Antonio. First, they beat Oklahoma City the last two times they've played them even though OKC didn't have its full squad either time. So much of professional sports is about confidence. The Mavs believe they can beat Oklahoma City. In their heart of hearts, I don't know that they believe they can beat the Spurs. They will compete, but I don’t know if they believe when it comes to San Antonio.
MacMahon: The Mavs wouldn’t be favored in either series, but they’d at least have a shooter’s chance against the Thunder. They’d be in serious jeopardy of getting swept by the Spurs. You can debate how much stock should be put in Dallas’ two March wins over Oklahoma City, but they at least gave the Mavs reason to believe they can beat the Thunder. That doesn’t exist against a San Antonio team that hasn’t lost to the Mavs since Jason Kidd was playing point guard in Dallas. The Mavs’ ball movement gives the Thunder big problems. If the Mavs are hot from 3-point range, they’ve got a shot to beat the Thunder.
Some truths don’t need to be said out loud.
The chance to claim the seventh seed in the Western Conference playoffs -- and not be forced to make a first-round trip to San Antonio -- is obviously major motivational fodder for the Mavs entering Wednesday night’s regular-season finale against the Memphis Grizzlies. The loser faces the Spurs, who swept both the Mavs and Grizzlies this season and have won their past nine meetings with Dallas.
Oklahoma City Thunder or Los Angeles Clippers is no treat, but the Mavs’ odds are much better against those potential No. 2 seeds than if they match up with the Spurs. But that isn’t the only reason this is a big game for the Mavs.
The Mavs set 50 wins as a goal at the beginning of the season, and they’re fired up about the chance to accomplish that in their 82nd game.
Not long ago, that seemed like a bare-minimum expectation for the Mavs, who won at least 50 games in 11 straight seasons before going 36-30 in the lockout-shortened season and 41-41 with last season’s temp-filled roster. But the days of Dirk Nowitzki’s Mavs joining Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics, Magic Johnson’s Los Angeles Lakers and Tim Duncan’s San Antonio Spurs as the only teams to have a decade-long run of such seasons feel distant now.
For a franchise trying to rebuild a championship contender, 50 wins is a major milestone.
Nobody refers to Ellis as an analytics antihero anymore or calls him a selfish gunner who values volume scoring over winning after he’s played a critical role in the Dallas Mavericks returning to the playoffs. But Ellis distinctly remembers all those who doubted whether he could be a valuable member of a winning franchise, present company included.
“That’s why I go out every night and play this game of basketball -- for my teammates and this organization -- because all of them critics,” Ellis said Tuesday before the Mavs traveled to Memphis for a regular-season finale that will determine the order of the West’s last two playoff seeds and whether Dallas accomplishes its goal of winning 50 games. “I love proving people wrong, and this year we have done that. ...
Ellis still bristles about the criticism of his game, but it was factually based. What he’s actually proven is that he can adapt and thrive under better circumstances.
There is no question that Ellis was one of the least efficient scorers in the NBA in recent seasons, especially during his last campaign in Milwaukee. The facts were that his field-goal percentage (41.6) was the second lowest in the league among 15-plus-ppg scorers, his 3-point percentage (28.7) was the worst among qualifiers and he hit the lowest percentage of off-the-dribble jumpers (32.3) of any player who jacked up at least 250 such shots.
The facts are that Ellis, whose points (19.0) and assists (5.8) are actually down slightly from last season, has become a significantly more efficient scorer across the board this season. He’s shooting a very respectable 45.2 percent from the floor, 32.7 percent from 3-point range and 38.8 percent on off-the-dribble jumpers, which ranks 16th of the 33 players with at least 250 such attempts, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Every game will matter with the regular-season finale deciding whether the Mavericks or Memphis Grizzlies get the unenviable task of opening the playoffs in San Antonio.
Frustrating as the Mavs’ inability to hold leads might be, this is a fun team to watch. It’s one of the best offensive teams in basketball, featuring a historically elite shooter in Dirk Nowitzki, one of the league’s most relentless paint attackers in Monta Ellis and some beautiful ball movement in coach Rick Carlisle’s flow system. Sure, the Mavs are a subpar defensive team, but that’s entertaining, too.
Enjoy the ride. The odds of it ending with a parade through downtown Dallas are extremely slim, but at least Mavs basketball is fun again after one miserable .500 season.
On to your questions ...
I think it's pretty clear Dirk Nowitzki is best Mavs player ever. Who's the second? -- @JohnnyPablo_ on Twitter
Rolando Blackman, Steve Nash and Jason Kidd, but I’m going with Mark Aguirre.
Aguirre’s Dallas departure was ugly, but the dude filled it up during his time with the Mavs. He averaged 29.5 points per game during the 1983-84 season, a franchise record that might never be broken. He averaged at least 22.6 points per game for six straight seasons.
We’re talking about one of the best 6-foot-6 post scorers to ever play the game. It’s too bad his No. 24 will probably never hang from the American Airlines Center rafters.
Is Monta Ellis having a great season due to him changing his game under Rick Carlisle or more of a testament to simply being surrounded by a better supporting cast like he was with the Warriors? -- Parker (Dallas)
It’s a case of right coach, right situation and right time of Ellis’ career. He arrived in Dallas sick and tired of losing, recognized the opportunity he had here and attacked it with an open mind.
It’s not that Ellis has changed his game as much as he’s simply played to his strengths. He’s always excelled at attacking the basket. He just settled for way too many jumpers in recent years.
Of course, he never had a teammate that had anything close to the kind of gravitational pull on defenses that Dirk has. Ellis has much more space to operate in Dallas than he did in Milwaukee or Golden State after he became the go-to guy. Carlisle has done a great job putting Ellis in situations to play to his strengths, and Ellis has responded with a season that the Mavs front office considered a best-case scenario when they signed him.
That’s the case with Kevin Durant following in the one-legged footsteps of Dirk Nowitzki, as reported in great detail by ESPN.com’s Marc Stein.
Durant, the MVP favorite whose Oklahoma City Thunder might face Nowitzki’s Dallas Mavericks in the first round, has gone so far as to hire a Holger Geschwindner pupil to put him through workouts similar to those that helped Dirk develop from a skinny kid in Wurzburg, Germany, to the 10th-leading scorer in NBA history.
“I'm not even sure if he needs it,” Nowitzki said. “I mean, he's one of the best players on the planet. He's already got the whole package.
“Credit to him that he loves working out, he loves getting better. And he's already one of the best players ever or in the league now. He's constantly in the gym, working out on the road, working out at home. That's a credit to him being hungry and constantly improving.
“To me, he's got the whole package. He can shoot off the dribble, he can post, he can shoot from 3 anywhere. He's already pretty good.”
Pretty good, of course, is a great understatement with Durant. Once his fourth scoring title becomes official at the end of the regular season, Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain will be the only players in NBA history to have more. At 25 years old, Durant is almost halfway to the exclusive 30,000-point club, which Nowitzki could join as the sixth member in a few years.
That’s what will be on the line during the Dallas Mavericks-Memphis Grizzlies regular-season finale Wednesday night at the FedExForum.
Phoenix Suns. That pulled Memphis even with Dallas at 49-32, making the tiebreaker the Mavs own over Memphis irrelevant.
The Golden State Warriors clinched the West’s 6-seed by beating the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday.
The Mavs-Grizzlies winner gets the No. 7 seed and most likely opens the playoffs against the Oklahoma City Thunder, although OKC needs a win Wednesday over the Detroit Pistons or needs the Los Angeles Clippers to lose one of their last two games to wrap up the No. 2 seed.
The Mavs-Grizzlies loser gets the No. 8 seed and a certain trip to San Antonio to face a team that has the NBA’s best record and has lost only four times since the All-Star break.
Ellis led the Mavericks to a 2-1 record with wins over the Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns. He averaged 25.7 points, 4.7 assists, four rebounds, one steal and 40 minutes per game during that stretch while shooting 51.6 percent (32-of-62) from the field and 44.4 percent (4-of-9) from 3-point range.
Ellis scored 37 points (15-of-23) on Saturday night in a 101-98 victory over the Suns to help the Mavs clinch a playoff berth.
Dirk Nowitzki won Western Conference Player of the Week honors last week, making this the first time in franchise history that two Dallas teammates have garnered the honor in back-to-back weeks.
That will be a trend that continues into the playoffs.
Nowitzki played 39 minutes in Saturday’s win over the Phoenix Suns, which was essentially an early playoff game. That’s the most minutes he’s logged in a game that didn’t go to overtime this season.
Nowitzki played between 38 and 40 minutes in the Mavs’ four overtime games on the previous homestand.
There’s a decent chance that the Mavs could be locked into the Western Conference’s seventh seed by the time their heads hit the pillow tonight. That would be the case if the home teams prevail in the Minnesota-Golden State and Memphis-Phoenix games.
If the seventh or even sixth seed is at stake, the Mavs obviously go all out to beat the Grizzlies in the regular-season finale. What if the Mavs can’t move up or down in the standings?
“We’re prepared for Wednesday at this point in time as a game we need to win,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “Beyond that, right now, that’s where we’re at. I don’t think it’s a good idea to get into answering kharmically flawed questions like that. I’ll politely decline that. I would even say respectfully decline.
“We’ll watch the game tonight. The games tonight are going to be of great interest to everybody. But we’re working at getting better for Wednesday’s game and the playoffs in these next two days. That’s what we need to do. We got a lot of things to work on.”
The regular-season finale could also factor into whether the Mavs give up their top-20 protected pick this summer, but that's the furthest thing from Carlisle's mind.
There weren’t any wild celebrations, but there was a sense of temporary satisfaction.
Monta Ellis, a nine-year veteran who had been a part of only two previous playoff teams. "We set this goal at the beginning of training camp. Everybody doubted us and for us to come and be here in the playoffs, and then add our goal to get 50 wins, we got one more game to do that and get ready for the playoffs."
As Vince Carter said, the Mavs are back where they feel like they should be. This is a franchise that considers missing out on the postseason, as it did last year to end a streak of 12 straight playoff appearances, to be a massive failure.
But there are only two players on the roster who have been part of a playoff win in a Mavs uniform, something that hasn’t happened since they popped champagne bottles after Game 6 of the 2011 Finals.
The Mavs made major roster renovations for the second straight summer, making upgrades this time instead of just adding players as temporary placeholders, but there were certainly no guarantees that this team would play more than 82 games. In the deep Western Conference, it took 81 games and a lot of ups and downs before Dallas punched its playoff ticket.
He took a team that plays poor defense, struggles to rebound and has only two reliable scorers -- Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis -- and guided them to 49 wins and a playoff spot in basketball's most difficult conference.
You saw the best of Carlisle in the Mavs' 101-98 win over Phoenix on Saturday night, which propelled Dallas into the playoffs.
Don't think it's a coincidence that Ellis had one of the most efficient seasons of his career during his first year with the Mavs.
Whether it was O.J. Mayo last season or Ellis this season, Carlisle has a great feel for getting players to buy into his core beliefs. He persuades them to sacrifice the selfish elements of their game for the benefit of the team.
Until Mavericks center Brandan Wright came flying from the other side of the floor to block a shot that ranks really high on the list of the biggest plays of his career.
“It’s probably No. 1,” Wright said after the Mavs punched their playoff tickets with a 101-98 win Saturday night.
And this was probably the most meaningful performance of Wright’s six-year career.
Wright, whose playing time fluctuates based on matchups and coach Rick Carlisle’s whims, posted his second double-double of the season with 12 points and 11 rebounds in a season-high 32 minutes. He also came up with three blocks, including the one that potentially prevented overtime.
“Man, he was great,” Monta Ellis said. “He got a lot of rebounds that we needed. He got some big blocked shots that we needed. He played a heck of a game.”
This wasn’t a game suited for Mavs starting center Samuel Dalembert. The Suns play at too fast of a pace to go with a traditional big man. But that style is suited for Wright, a phenomenal athlete who isn’t as physical as most centers.
“Every night, I feel like I’m needed,” said Wright, who averaged 13.0 points and 7.3 rebounds in three games against the Suns, well above his norms. “I felt good about tonight. I felt good about our chances. I already had two good games against those guys, so I didn’t see why he wouldn’t go to me. I’m glad he went to me. It paid off for us.”
It’s possible for the Mavs to land anywhere from sixth to eight in the Western Conference. That means first-round matchups with the No. 1 seed San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder (almost certainly second seed) and Los Angeles Clippers (almost certainly third seed) are all still possibilities.
A quick look at the potential scenarios for each seed:
Sixth seed: If the Golden State Warriors lose their last three games and Mavs win in Memphis
Seventh seed: If Mavs win in Memphis or Grizzlies lose another game
Eighth seed: If Grizzlies win out, including beating Mavs
The remaining schedules for the teams relevant to the Mavs’ seeding:
Sunday: at Portland Trail Blazers
Monday: vs. Minnesota Timberwolves
Wednesday: at Denver Nuggets
Sunday: at Los Angeles Lakers
Monday: at Phoenix Suns
Wednesday: vs. Mavs
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