DALLAS -- Not that the Dallas Mavericks needed any more proof, but Wednesday’s 116-103 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder provided further evidence of just how important it is for them to seize the fifth spot in the Western Conference standings.
Too bad it also caused them to slip to seventh place, a half-game behind the sizzling Portland Trail Blazers.
The Thunder finished off the season sweep of the Mavs and dropped Dallas to 1-13 against the NBA’s division leaders. And the lone win comes with a big, fat asterisk in the form of reigning MVP Stephen Curry sitting out the game due to an injury.
Let’s just be blunt: A failure to claim the fifth seed might as well be a death certificate for the Mavs. They’d be nothing but a nice little warm-up for the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs or Thunder in a first-round series.
But that’s not the worst-case scenario for this Dallas squad that has lost six of its last eight games. Just imagine how embarrassing it’d be to ship a lottery pick to the Boston Celtics to put the finishing touches on the debacle that was the Rajon Rondo deal.
At this point, that disastrous outcome seems a lot more realistic than the Mavs moving up high enough in the standings to draw the Los Angeles Clippers, who aren’t a great consolation prize, either.
“We’re going to make the playoffs,” Mavs point guard Deron Williams said with as much optimism as he could muster. “We’ve got to get moving, though, because there’s teams that are playing really well right now. We’re not locked in. We’re not a lock. We’ve got to realize how important every game is going forward.”
That shouldn’t be a concept that the Mavs struggle to grasp.
Dallas is now four games behind Memphis and has been passed by Portland, which faces Dallas in a home-and-home series spread out over a few days in March. The Utah Jazz, who won in Dallas just before the All-Star break, are only a game behind the Mavs.
The Mavs’ best hope might be that the Houston Rockets, not them, are the biggest mess in Texas at the moments. The dysfunctional Rockets are 1 1/2 games behind the Mavs and have lost seven of their last 10 games.
“I don’t look at the standings,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I’m looking at how we’re playing.”
Regardless, Carlisle certainly doesn’t like what he’s seeing.
The Mavs know that their margin for error is minimal if they plan to be postseason participants. They better take advantage of the rest of this friendly homestand, with the Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves, Orlando Magic and Sacramento Kings coming to town over the next eight days.
“We’ve got to get some wins, got to get some traction,” face of the franchise Dirk Nowitzki said after his season-high 33 points went to waste. Nowitzki answered “of course” when asked whether he was concerned about the possibility of missing the playoffs.
“We’ve got to get hot,” shooting guard Wesley Matthews said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that we’re a playoff team. There’s no doubt in my mind that we’re going to make the playoffs, but we can’t just sit there and think that it’s going to happen. We can’t just wake up tomorrow and it’s the playoffs.
“We’ve still got 20-something games left, and it’s tight. And we have to play like it’s tight. We have to play like we’re not in. We have to play like we’re [No.] 9 trying to get in, not that we’re the 6 or was the 6 trying to get to 5. We’ve got to play every game like we could be out, because theoretically we could be.”
This 2-6 stretch has been a mix of misery for the Mavs. This was the third game in that span that they lost by double figures, lowlighted by the humiliation of breaking the franchise record for the largest halftime deficit in a Feb. 5 blowout by the Spurs. The other three were close losses, including two in overtime.
There have been some defensive disasters, such as Wednesday, when six Oklahoma City players scored in double figures. There have been a couple of offensive duds.
“I wish I could put my finger on one thing,” Williams said. “I feel like every game has been different. The thing I can say is we can play harder. You can always play harder and give a better effort.”
Hey, look on the bright side: The Mavs should have all the motivation they could possibly need.