The chance to claim the seventh seed in the Western Conference playoffs -- and not be forced to make a first-round trip to San Antonio -- is obviously major motivational fodder for the Mavs entering Wednesday night’s regular-season finale against the Memphis Grizzlies. The loser faces the Spurs, who swept both the Mavs and Grizzlies this season and have won their past nine meetings with Dallas.
Opening the playoffs against the Oklahoma City Thunder or Los Angeles Clippers is no treat, but the Mavs’ odds are much better against those potential No. 2 seeds than if they match up with the Spurs. But that isn’t the only reason this is a big game for the Mavs.
The Mavs set 50 wins as a goal at the beginning of the season, and they’re fired up about the chance to accomplish that in their 82nd game.
Not long ago, that seemed like a bare-minimum expectation for the Mavs, who won at least 50 games in 11 straight seasons before going 36-30 in the lockout-shortened season and 41-41 with last season’s temp-filled roster. But the days of Dirk Nowitzki’s Mavs joining Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics, Magic Johnson’s Los Angeles Lakers and Tim Duncan’s San Antonio Spurs as the only teams to have a decade-long run of such seasons feel distant now.
For a franchise trying to rebuild a championship contender, 50 wins is a major milestone.
“Yeah, 50 wins is a great accomplishment in this league,” Nowitzki said. “It’s tough to win. It’s tough to win on the road consistently. I think we took 50 wins for granted a little bit there a couple of times when we just did it in a row a few times. We won 67 one year.
“You just think 50 wins is easy to get, but it’s really not.”
Nothing comes easy in the West, in which 50 wins is a requirement to avoid facing the league’s best team in the first round.
Another benefit of the Mavs completing their season sweep of the Grizzlies, who have won 13 consecutive games at FedExForum: Dallas would get rid of its first-round pick.
That’s far from the front of mind for coach Rick Carlisle and the players on the roster. In fact, Carlisle mistakenly thought the Mavs assured themselves of finally paying their debt for the disastrous Lamar Odom deal by making the playoffs.
But the pick, now owed to the Oklahoma City Thunder after being traded twice, is top-20 protected through 2017. That means the Mavs must win in Memphis to guarantee they get rid of it this year, freeing the front office to discuss future first-round picks in trade talks again.
If the Mavs lose to the Grizzlies, they could finish tied with the Toronto Raptors and Chicago Bulls for the NBA’s 10th-best record this season. If that’s the case, a random drawing would decide whether Dallas ships the pick to OKC or ends up with the No. 19 or 20 overall selection in the draft.
“I like draft picks as much as the next guy, but that ain’t helping us win on Wednesday or this weekend,” Carlisle said.
But that’s a backburner reason why the regular-season finale is so meaningful for the Mavs. So is the 50-win milestone.
Winning Wednesday would put the Mavs in much better position to win over the weekend and beyond.