Why the play-in tournament could spell doom for the Dallas Mavericks

The Dallas Mavericks defeated the Washington Wizards on May 1. A lot was lost in the pandemonium of that victory in what turned out to be one of the Mavs best games of the year. Buried under Luka Doncic’s historic 30-point, 20-assist triple-double is the slightly disturbing fact that it took such a grandiose effort to pull out a last-second win over the now 29-35 Wizards. They followed it with a loss to the lottery-bound Kings.

Dallas has struggled against bad squads all season. The team is a perfect case study of duality in the NBA. For whatever reason, the Mavericks can beat any team in the league but also have the frustrating ability to lose to any opponent on any given night.

According to Clutch Points, Dallas this year has a stellar 23-14 mark against teams with a winning record. That translates to a 62.2 winning percentage, good for the seventh-best in the league and fifth in the West. On the ugly side of the same coin, the Mavericks are a putrid 13-13 against teams below-.500, a rate that would have them at ninth in the West and fighting for a play-in slot.

Avoiding the play-in tournament is crucial for the Dallas Mavericks

The ability to handle business against weaker opponents has always been the distinction between good teams and great ones. Their tendency to play down to the level of inferior opponents is the primary reason the Mavericks will have to fight through the finish line to avoid the play-in tournament.

This is a double-edged sword. The Mavs’ inability to secure easy wins over lower-seeded teams could force them into a do-or-die situation against one. The play-in features teams seven through ten in each conference this season. Fans can listen to specifics of how it works here.

Five of the Mavericks remaining eight games are against opponents below-.500. Considering their track record, the Mavs can’t afford to take their foot off the gas or rest their stars in preparation for the playoffs.

It is not all bad news for the Dallas Mavericks

Thankfully, there is a bright side to this ominous report. Against the three teams the Mavs are most likely to see in the play-in tournament, the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, and Memphis Grizzlies, Dallas has a 5-2 record. The Mavericks have one more matchup against the Grizzlies on May 11th.

The Portland Trail Blazers have a slim chance of freefalling just to eventually spoil the Mavericks playoff hopes. Although they have a 3.5 game lead over the ninth-seed Warriors, the Blazers are on a dry spell, losing six of their last ten. Despite their various struggles, Damian Lillard has lifted Portland over Dallas twice in three games, averaging over 32 points in the wins.

The Mavericks need the Blazers to be just good enough that they don’t fall into the ninth or tenth seeds but not so good that they overtake Dallas and force them into a play-in slot.

The Dallas Mavericks control their own destiny

Ultimately, Dallas needs to take the reins and prove they can beat the teams they are supposed to sooner or later. With eight games remaining, five of which against lottery-bound teams, the Mavericks needs to capitalize. If they can flip this script and use their remaining strength of schedule to their advantage, Dallas will not only avoid the play-in tournament but could finish over the recovering Los Angeles Lakers for the fifth seed.

Even though avoiding the play-in most likely means a first-round matchup against the LA Clippers or Denver Nuggets rather than the Phoenix Suns or Utah Jazz, Dallas has proved that it would rather rise to the occasion as an underdog than cover as the favorite.

Regardless of how the Mavs finish against sub-.500 opponents, Dallas needs to do everything it can to dodge a potential do-or-die game against the likes of Damian Lillard or Steph Curry. Hopefully, they can ride winning six of eight and finish strong against their cannon fodder opponents because avoiding the play-in tournament could mean the difference between the team being playoff Cinderellas or disappointments.