Updated: March 29, 2009, 12:56 PM ET

Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

The Mavs would be the East's fourth seed. Instead, they may be L.A.'s first victim. Can they shake up the standings with a late-season surge? A win Sunday (1 p.m. ET, ABC) would be a good start.

Can Dallas Shake Things Up In The West?

Once again this season, Dirk Nowitzki is proving he's one of the premier players in the league. He's a perennial All-Star power forward whose ability to score has always been consistent because he shoots such a high percentage from the field, on 3-point attempts and at the line.

He's got to be the best big man shooter of all time. Add to that that he plays hurt, he's a great team player and as great a clutch shooter as there is in the league. He is quite a weapon.

NBA on ABC Schedule

• Mavericks at Cavs, 1 ET (ABC, ESPN Radio)
• Spurs at Hornets, 8 ET (ESPN)

But as good as Nowitzki is, if the regular season ended right now, the Mavericks would be only the 8-seed in the West.

Not many folks would point to this, but the Mavericks have struggled with the loss of Jerry Stackhouse for most of the year. His absence took away the extra shooter that they needed to either start at the 2-guard position or come off the bench with Jason Terry so their bench would be productive night in and night out. That, to me, is their missing ingredient. And yet, the Mavs are still 43-29 so far -- they would be in fourth place in the East.

They don't have enough scorers, that's the first problem. That stems, in part, from the inconsistencies that Josh Howard has shown because of injuries. Without Stackhouse and a consistent Howard you are basically down to two scorers: Nowitzki and Terry. The rest of these guys are all suspect.

We all know that Jason Kidd, as great as he was, has had his better days. In the transition game, he doesn't have anyone to get the ball to outside of Nowitzki and Terry. Kidd still does a good job rebounding, has a decent 3-point shot and plays hard every night, but as a distributor his remaining talents are limited further by the lack of firepower in the Mavs' lineup.

Another concern for the Mavericks has to be their lack of success on the road. Right now they are 17-20 away from home. They still have four road games left, but if you are going to be a legitimate contender at playoff time you have to have a winning record on the road. They are not going to have home-court advantage and they haven't proved they can beat the plus-.500 teams on the road. So how are they going to steal a game in their opponent's building?

There are so many question marks it's impossible to handicap the Western Conference right now, outside of Los Angeles at least, but the Mavericks could finish anywhere from second to ninth. If they want to make any kind of noise in the postseason, they'll have to hope to avoid the Lakers for as long as possible.

ESPN analyst Hubie Brown was the NBA Coach of the Year in 2003-04.

Dimes past: March 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21-22 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28-29

Is LeBron This Season's MVP?
By John Krolik
TrueHoop Network

For me, there are three major factors to consider in an MVP race, and if you're comparing two guys, two out of three takes it (all of this assumes we're talking about the best player on a team): role, efficiency in performing that role and the success of the team.

And yeah, LeBron James is the MVP this year, and it's really not all that close at this point. Frankly, I think Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade are the only other people who votes could legitimately go to if the season ended today.

Just quickly:

• In terms of role on team, only Wade creates more points than LBJ, and it's by a two-point gap, with Wade playing many more crunch minutes, which are huge in terms of numbers. Add all that to what LeBron does on the boards and on the defensive end.

• When you look at plus-minus, it's LeBron, CP3 and everyone else, with those two accounting for a positive value of 23.2 points per 100 possessions. When LeBron is off the floor, the Cavs are a minus-9.6 team. That would make them the worst team in the league. The second-best player on the team was dumped by the Bucks this offseason, and the Bucks weren't lighting the world on fire when Mo Williams was their second-best player. The Cavs' starters alone have missed 51 games this season. And this is the team with the best record in the NBA.

• In terms of efficiency, LeBron is on pace to set a PER record, and he's got Kobe and Wade beat fairly handily in terms of TS percentage, with a turnover rate better than Wade's and, on a per-possession basis, his assist ratio is better than either of theirs.

• In crunch time, LeBron's numbers are better than anyone else's. (In "clutch" situations, he averages what would extrapolate to 53.2 points, 13.5 rebounds and 12.1 assists, and averages 53 percent from the field, 44 percent from 3 and 85 percent from the line.) And more importantly, the Cavs are the second-best fourth-quarter team in the league and have been absolutely phenomenal in clutch situations, losing only two games by three points or less. (On two controversial referee decisions: the back-to-back alley-oop fouls and, yes, the infamous "crab dribble" game.)

This is the team with the best record in the league, and it's almost entirely because LeBron is having an absolutely superhuman season in every imaginable facet of the game. I think that four players this season are having seasons that could have won an MVP award in previous years, and I think LeBron is head and shoulders above that pack. He's been that good.

To read more from Krolik, check out his TrueHoop Network blog, "Cavs: The Blog."

End-Of-Quarter Killers
By Henry Abbott

The play of the NBA on Thursday night was Rudy Fernandez ending the third quarter with a nifty baseline drive to catch a Sergio Rodriguez pass and then swoop in for a little reverse.

Only the quarter wasn't exactly over. Phoenix inbounded for the final tick, Fernandez picked off the pass and nailed a 3. It was the chalupa shot -- it took the Blazers to 100 points, and the whole place just went insane.

After it happened, it occurred to me that Fernandez seems to have a particular skill in scoring at the end of quarters. That baseline drive to catch a pass from Rodriguez ... I've seen that before.

I e-mailed Haralabos Voulgaris, who has his own massive database of just about everything you could imagine that happens on an NBA court, to see if he could confirm that Fernandez has scored a lot at the end of quarters. A few minutes later he replied with all kinds of fascinating data, which he has given me permission to share.

This is his list of 2008-09's highest scorers (through Thursday) on plays that initiated within the last 24 seconds of any quarter (with desperation heaves filtered out and totals over 1.1 bolded):

1. Chris Paul: 98 points on 92 plays (1.07 points per offensive action.)
2. Dwyane Wade: 88 points on 106 plays (.83)
3. Brandon Roy: 82 points on 68 plays (1.22)
4. Andre Iguodala: 76 points on 77 plays (.99)
5. Devin Harris: 71 points on 70 plays (1.01)
6. Lou Williams: 70 points on 70 plays (1)
7. Nate Robinson: 68 points on 83 plays (.82)
8. Vince Carter: 65 points on 66 plays (.98)
9. Kevin Durant: 64 points on 56 plays (1.14)
10. Jason Terry: 64 points on 56 plays (1.14)
11. LeBron James: 64 points on 82 plays (.78)
12. Richard Hamilton: 61 points on 54 plays (1.13)
13. Kobe Bryant: 60 points on 68 plays (.88)
14. Raymond Felton: 58 points on 74 plays (.78)
15. Jarrett Jack: 57 points on 56 plays (1.02)
16. Jamal Crawford: 55 points on 56 plays (.98)
17. Paul Pierce: 55 points on 49 plays (1.12)
18. Baron Davis: 54 points on 70 plays (.77)
19. Ben Gordon: 52 points on 56 plays (.93)
20. Randy Foye: 51 points on 67 plays (.76)
21. Manu Ginobili: 51 points on 48 plays (1.06)
22. Rudy Fernandez: 51 points on 46 plays (1.11)

Chris Paul just missed that cut, but at his size, and with that volume -- everyone knows he's little, and everyone knows he's going to take the shot -- he clearly has a special ability to elude the defense.

Also it occurs to me that the Thunder, Sixers, and Blazers all have surprisingly good end-of-quarter scorers. Brandon Roy is something special -- highest efficiency in the list, and among the higher volumes. Kobe Bryant and Roy both have 68 plays, but Roy turned them into 82 points, instead of Bryant's 60.

Worth noting, though, is that Roy clearly tends to make his move earlier than some. Very few of his plays ended in the final three seconds, which I know because Voulgaris also sent over a similar listing, sliced and diced to show plays that ended in the final three seconds of a quarter, and Roy was nowhere on it.

The points per play were lower in that list, as the clock is clearly a good defender. And the standouts here were mostly guys who play alongside superstars -- perhaps they have a better chance of getting open? Jason Terry (27 on 27 plays), Roger Mason (24 on 24), Jeff Green (21 on 21), Andre Iguodala (31 on 32), Kevin Durant (18 on 19) and Fernandez (18 on 19).

Superstars were less efficient: LeBron James has 33 points on 42 plays, Chris Paul 31 on 49 plays, Dwyane Wade 25 points on 46 plays (the lowest efficiency of the 19 biggest scorers in the last three seconds), and Kobe Bryant 18 points on 30 plays. Also interesting is that plenty of good teams, including Orlando, Denver, Houston, Phoenix and Utah, have nobody on either of these lists.

To read more from Abbott and the TrueHoop Blog Network, click here.



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Wild West Playoff Race
By Hubie Brown | ESPN

From two through nine, every team in the West has had a major injury problem this season. Some of those guys are back but they're not where they need to be yet. There's no doubt that the Lakers miss Andrew Bynum, but they have so much talent that they are still rolling along.

With roughly 10 games left in the season, the playoff seeds in the West are far from settled. One team is going to be left out. Naturally some teams have tougher schedules over the final couple of weeks and it's possible that it could be one of the current top teams.

For that to happen, Phoenix will have to step up and I don't know if they can without Leandro Barbosa and Amare Stoudemire.

They've had some big wins recently, but I wonder if their bench can maintain their level of production. I'm a big Utah fan but because of the remaining schedule I would not consider them a lock.

Houston is playing much better, and if they are healthy, the Spurs could be better than last year.
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All-NBA Voting Dilemma
By John Hollinger | ESPN.com

I've mentioned this before in chats, but we have an interesting dilemma brewing over All-NBA voting. The league's five best players, pretty much everyone would agree, have been LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul and Dwight Howard.

However, the All-NBA voting is done by position, and there's only one forward in that quintet I mentioned above. Which means Tim Duncan is likely to butt out one of the guards, most likely Paul, unless the voters get creative and list Bryant as a forward.

The dilemma cascades a rung below, as well. If Paul is bumped to second team, that means Tony Parker and Brandon Roy would be duking it out for the other guard slot, while a pair of forwards who have had lesser seasons (Kevin Garnett and Dirk Nowitzki, I'm guessing) ease into second-team spots at those positions.

Read the four other Insider Gems

King's Court

Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

LeBron's 29 points helped the Cavs defeat Dallas in the teams' last meeting, in the second week of the season. Can the King have similar success on Sunday and stretch Cleveland's win streak to 12?

Parker For MVP?

kman -- North Kakalacky: Adande, Tim Duncan says Tony Parker should be considered as a top five candidate for the MVP. It seems like with every game Parker plays of late, he is designated the top performer in the Daily Dime. If CP3 is often mentioned as a MVP candidate, why not Parker?

J.A. Adande: The more I think about it, the more Tony Parker stands out as the most unrecognized star in the NBA. We never hear him in the top PG discussion. We never hear him in the MVP talk. Yet the Spurs have stayed in the mix this year without full Tim or Manu. The biggest issue (and this isn't his fault) is that Tim and Manu are still the most important players on that team. Hard to be the league MVP when you're No. 3 on your squad.

Patrick (Dallas): I think the point about Tony Parker is that he is now the #1 guy on that team, at least offensively. Duncan is the rock and anchor on defense, but Parker has quietly become the #1 option on offense.

Adande: I still think a healthy Ginobili is more vital to that team … on both ends of the floor. They didn't have a chance against the Lakers last year because he was hobbled, and won't have a chance this year if he can't go full speed.

mike newark ohio [via mobile]: what do you think about the cavs thinking about bringing big ben off the bench, and you dont buy boston doesnt care about home court do you?

Adande: Don't see anything wrong with bringing Ben off the bench. And as much as the Celtics might say it, making extra road trips takes its toll, especially when the three most important players are in their 30s. I remember the Lakers having to hit the road for the second and third rounds in 2003, and by the end they were wiped out. One thing that would help is at least the Celtics wouldn't have to go through two time zones.

Andrew (Ohio) [via mobile]: JA, can we please put to rest the idea that anyone else should be the MVP this season besides LeBron. Have you seen his 28, 9, and 9 he has put up during the cavs win streak!

Adande: At this point it's not even LeBron's to lose. It's just LeBron's

Read the rest of Adande's chat
Chatter Box

The NBA Today crew discusses some of the craziest happenings of the NBA season, and Jason Smith talks to Marc Stein about the trade made at the deadline and why a pregame routine, like those of Shaq and LeBron, is a good thing.

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