Wild West: Mavs lead three-team race entering stretch run

SACRAMENTO -- Dirk Nowitzki figured all along the Dallas Mavericks would have to fight to make the playoffs in the deep Western Conference.

He just didn’t anticipate the Phoenix Suns being one of the teams in the mix. For that matter, nobody did.

But the Suns are right there and refusing to go away. The seventh place Mavs have given themselves a bit of breathing room ahead of the Memphis Grizzlies, creating a 1 ½-game cushion by beating the Sacramento Kings and having Memphis lose in San Antonio on Sunday. The Suns, on the other hand, remain just a half-game behind Dallas after wins over the playoff-bound Portland Trail Blazers and Oklahoma City Thunder this weekend.

“I think Phoenix came out of nowhere,” Dirk Nowitzki said. “The so-called analysts had them winning 15 games. They’re well coached. Memphis has [Marc] Gasol back now and they’re playing well, so it’s going to be a fight.

“Down the stretch, we’re going to see both teams. It’s going to be a fight. It’s going to be as competitive as it gets. You gotta love it.”

Yes, in a sweet twist of scheduling fate, the teams involved in a three-way fight for the West’s last two playoff spots essentially play a round-robin tournament in the last week of the regular season. The Suns and Mavs meet in Dallas on April 12, the Grizzlies go to Phoenix on April 14 and the Mavs and Grizzlies wrap up the regular season in Memphis on April 16.

There are all sorts of scenarios that could play out, but as far as the Mavs are concerned, it’s probably best to keep it simple. Keep winning and they’ll punch their playoff tickets.

“We’re fighting some teams and each win counts,” Vince Carter said. “I’m not real good at scoreboard watching, because I always believed that if we’re not doing our job, all that other stuff doesn’t matter.”

For those who enjoy the sport of scoreboard watching, here’s a look at the remaining schedules for the three teams scrapping for the seventh and eighth seeds in the West.

MAVS (47-31)

April 8 at Utah Jazz

April 10 vs. San Antonio Spurs

April 12 vs. Phoenix Suns

April 16 at Memphis Grizzlies

SUNS (46-31)

April 9 at New Orleans Pelicans

April 11 at San Antonio Spurs

April 12 at Dallas Mavericks

April 14 vs. Memphis Grizzlies

April 16 at Sacramento Kings


April 9 vs. Miami Heat

April 11 vs. Philadelphia 76ers

April 13 at Los Angeles Lakers

April 14 at Phoenix Suns

April 16 vs. Dallas Mavericks