The Mavericks clinched the franchise's record 12th consecutive playoff berth with Houston's loss to New Orleans on Thursday night.
THE GOOD: Los Angeles Clippers (currently No. 4)
How they have played: The Mavs are 1-2 against the Clips, who won the first matchup at home, 91-89, without Chris Paul. But Dirk Nowitzki shot horribly, Mo Williams went off for 26 points and Chauncey Billups (out for the season) hit a game-winning buzzer-beater. The Mavs took the second game at home, 96-92, with both teams healthy with the exception of Billups. Dirk didn't shoot well again, but went 11-of-15 from the line. The third game might have been the Mavs' most disappointing performance of the year. They failed to show up, shot 39 percent and were embarrassed on the boards in a 94-75 home loss.
How Dirk has played: Nowitzki shot just 38 percent in the three games, but he's getting to the foul line a lot. Blake Griffin's athleticism always creates a tough matchup and defensive specialist Kenyon Martin adds an edge the Mavs are quite familiar with from his Denver days. The numbers don't tell the whole story though. Only Nowitzki, Brendan Haywood and Shawn Marion started all three games against the Clips.
How the Mavs will fare: Most agree this is probably their most favorable matchup, but nothing is a lock for the defending champions. If Dallas wants to move into the second round, they'll have to be on their toes when it comes to transition defense and find a way to get others beside Nowitzki involved in the offense.
THE BAD: Los Angeles Lakers (currently No. 3)
How they have played: The Mavs are 0-4 against the Lakers, but three of those could have gone either way. Shawn Marion is as good as anyone in the league checking Kobe Bryant, but the Pau Gasol-Andrew Bynum connection has averaging 36.8 points a game Injuries skewed games for both teams. Bryant's best game, a 30-point performance in the 109-93 win in Dallas, came with Marion sitting out.
How Dirk has played: He's averaging a double-double with 24 points and 10.3 rebounds, but shooting just 30 percent from beyond the arc.
How the Mavs fare: This matchup heavily rides on the health of Kobe. Nothing will keep him out of the playoffs, and he is expected to return on Friday. But if his sore left shin continues be a problem, the Mavs might catch a break. If he comes back healthy and refreshed after averaging a whopping 38.5 minutes a game, don't count on much rust from the league's leading scorer. Even if he does struggle with his shot, Gasol and Bynum have played lights-out against Dallas.
THE UGLY: Oklahoma City Thunder (currently No. 2)
How they have played: The Mavs are 1-3 against the Thunder and the ugly fact that the youthful Thunder found ways to pull games out late is concerning considering the Mavs prided themselves on such heroics during their championship run, and especially so against OKC in the West Finals. Kevin Durant stole the first meeting with a 3-point buzzer-beater at OKC in third game of the season. The Mavs looked great in one of their best all-around wins of the season, 100-87, soon after in the second game at home. The Thunder returned to Dallas a month later and returned the favor. But the Mavs were severely shorthanded without Jason Kidd, Brendan Haywood and Lamar Odom. Durant and Russell Westbrook struggled in the season finale, but the Thunder defense shut down the Mavs in the final minutes to win at OKC.
How Dirk played: Nowitzki was solid if not spectacular against the Mavs' Red River rival. He shot 44 percent and averaged 22.5 points per game. We haven't seen him be "championship Dirk" consistently this season, but the German torched the Thunder for 32.2 points per game in last year's playoff series.
How they fare: The Thunder have struggled late in the season, and losing the top seed to San Antonio wouldn't be any help to their momentum. The Mavs have held Westbrook and Durant below their season averages in scoring. The problem is that no one but Dirk can score consistently against the Thunder.
THE UGLY II: San Antonio Spurs (currently No. 1)
How they have played: It's hard to imagine the Mavs are 2-2 against San Antonio because Dirk has not played well in three of the four games. The Spurs embarrassed Dallas 93-71 in the first game without Manu Ginobli and with a barrage of 3-pointers, which became a theme against Dallas. In the final game of the series, a shorthanded Spurs squad did it again to the Mavs by 17 points, playing without Tony Parker. The Mavs coughed up a huge lead in the second game at home and won in OT after Danny Green's buzzer-beater was reversed by replay and the game went to an extra five minutes.
How Dirk played: In the third game of the series, a 106-99 win, he had a team-high 27 points. In the other three games, he scored 10.6 points per game on an abysmal 13-of-46 shooting.
How they fare: The Spurs have successfully mixed young, athletic newcomers with the Big Three and have arguably been the most consistent team in the NBA. Jason Terry has been great against the Spurs this season, but they'll need Dirk to find his rhythm to get past this potential first-round foe.