Unless the Dallas Mavericks crash and burn in their final four games, they should be able to find themselves, just barely, making the NBA playoffs as J.J. Barea is playing like one of the best point guards in the NBA for the last few games, making up for Dirk Nowitzki who seems to have run out of fuel at the most important phase of the season.
A rough post All-Star period complicated things for the Mavericks, who also lost Chandler Parsons for the season along the way. A team projected to possibly miss the playoffs had a great first half to the season, but found themselves battling for the 7th or 8th spot with the Houston Rockets and Utah Jazz. But with a five-game winning streak that the latest of them was an 88-86 victory over the Rockets, the Mavs can feel a little bit closer to checking their mission accomplished line. They’re probably going out in the first round like in the last two seasons, but they wanted to make the playoffs.
It’s funny. As the Mavericks went 2-8 from March 3 to March 23, Nowitzki averaged 25.1 points while shooting 53.6% from the field. But the Mavericks played bad on both ends and usually couldn’t function in the clutch, losing five games by six points or less. And then Nowitzki took a rest, the Mavericks conceded easily to the Golden State Warriors and everything changed. They did lose the next game to the Sacramento Kings and it all seemed to be over, but then came Barea.
The Mavs secret weapon when they won the championship in 2011 has moved and come back. On the current winning streak he’s averaging 24.2 points and 7 assists per game while shooting 53.9% from the field. He stepped up when the Mavericks needed him the most, getting no energy from players like Deron Williams and Wesley Matthews. Worth mentioning is also Justin Anderson, the rookie who has also found himself in the lineup recently and has really helped the Mavs, who have completely changed their style in the last five games buckle down defensively.
They understood that with offense, they’re not going to win that playoff spot. So Carlisle did what he needed to. Turned to a move defensive lineup and got Barea to carry the team on his back. They’ve given up only 97.8 points per 100 possessions in their win streak. Yes, the team ranked 17th in the NBA on defensive efficiency (107.2 per 100 possessions) is suddenly difficult to score against. It doesn’t hurt that Barea hits game winners and was described by Anderson as a cold-blooded killer.
In terms of schedule, the Rockets, who are now one game behind the Jazz and two behind the Mavericks, have the easiest road ahead. They play four of the five worst teams in the West – Suns, Lakers, Timberwolves, Kings (Pelicans not included in their finish) with just one road game. Everyone is trying to win and the Rockets haven’t been a model of consistency against good or bad teams, but at least it’s something to be optimistic about. The Mavericks have Memphis at home, Clippers and Jazz on the road before finishing against San Antonio, who might be resting players, but who knows. The Jazz play the Clippers in Salt Lake City, in Denver, home to Dallas and finish the season in the Kobe Bryant retirement game in Los Angeles. This is still in the Jazz and Mavs’ hands, but the Rockets do have a small opening.