Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Dallas Mavericks [Print without images]

Thursday, April 19, 2012
The race for the sixth seed, or is it seventh?

By Jeff Caplan

UPDATED: 9 a.m., Friday.

The Dallas Mavericks clinched a playoff berth Thursday with New Orleans' win over Houston. Now attention turns strictly to seeding and matchups.

With the Mavs (35-28) -- back in action tonight for their home finale against the Golden State Warriors -- and Denver Nuggets (34-28) in a virtual dead heat in the Western Conference standings and both teams now two games ahead of the trailing Utah Jazz (33-30) and Phoenix Suns (33-30) in the loss column, the jockeying between the two is coming down to the sixth and seventh seeds.

Which would the Mavs prefer? As the seventh seed the Mavs know their travel will be light to play the No. 2 seed. They'd start the playoffs either north of the Red River at the Oklahoma City Thunder or on the River Walk at the San Antonio Spurs. The sixth seed will face the No. 3 seed and likely head to Los Angeles to face Kobe Bryant's Lakers. Chris Paul's Clippers lost Thursday at Phoenix, a hit to their chances of moving up and Memphis remains a long shot.

"It doesn’t matter at all," Jason Terry said of which seed the Mavs finish. "We've just got to get in. One more game and we solidify one of those three spots and and we’ll see what happens. It’s going to be a helluva playoffs. If I'm a fan I'm sitting here waiting. I can’t wait for the next week and a half to be up."

Jet can just about forget about the eighth seed. The Mavs hold the tiebreaker on the Nuggets, Jazz and Suns.

So which team, the Mavs or Nuggets, hold the upper hand to finish in sixth? Well, it depends just as much on how those two teams approach their final games after playoff berths are locked up as it does on their opponents' approach.

For instance, the Mavs could face a Chicago Bulls team Saturday night intent on finishing with the best record in the NBA. The Atlanta Hawks on Thursday could still be dueling with the Boston Celtics and/or Orlando Magic for the No. 4 seed and homecourt in the first round.

Here's the breakdown of schedules for the Mavs and Nuggets:

Mavs (winning percentage of opponents: .573)
Fri: vs. Golden State (22-39)
Sat: at Chicago (47-15)
April 26: at Atlanta (37-25)

Nuggets (winning percentage of opponents:.554)
Sat: at Phoenix (32-30)
Sun: vs. Orlando (36-26)
Wed: at Oklahoma City (45-17)
April 26: at Minnesota (25-38)