Mavs must hit first vs. possible playoff foe

PORTLAND, Ore. – Dirk Nowitzki accurately assessed the Mavs’ place in the West playoff picture after his off night in Oakland.

“It basically looks like we’ve got the 3 seed locked up,” Nowitzki said.

The rest of the top half of that picture became a lot clearer this afternoon. The Lakers’ chances to catch the Spurs for the top seed lost a lot of steam with the combination of the Nuggets snapping L.A.’s nine-game winning streak and San Antonio ending a six-game slide with a win over the Suns. Oklahoma City is all but locked into the fourth seed.

That means the Lakers would likely be waiting for the Mavs in the second round … if the Mavs make it that far.

“The road to the championship always goes through the champ,” Jason Terry said after Thursday night’s lopsided loss to the Lakers. “That’s the way I see it. Our major concern though is who we match up with first. You can’t overlook your first-round opponent, because the last [three out of four years] we’ve been put out in the first round.”

The Mavs’ first-round foe remains a mystery. It could well end up being the Hornets or Grizzlies, but the Trail Blazers are in sixth place right now. Portland can increase the likelihood of a playoff meeting with the Mavs tonight – and perhaps set a tone for that series – if the Trail Blazers defeat Dallas for the second time in a few weeks at the Rose Garden.

The Mavs can’t let the fact that it’s their fourth game in five days – and the finale of a six-game trip – be an excuse for anything but all-out effort.

“We’ve got to dig deep,” Nowitzki said. “The bench has got to come through. Everybody’s got to bring energy that’s going to play, and we’ll go from there. They really played us physically the last game. It was a tough game, so we’ve got to be ready to hit first.”