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Ranking Dallas Mavericks potential NBA play-in tournament opponents

Alan Johnson

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A string of disappointing losses to the Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, and Sacramento Kings leaves the Dallas Mavericks with little hope of getting out of the NBA’s new play-in tournament.

With focus moving to maintaining their spot as the seventh seed, the Mavericks can look towards their elimination games. Here are their four potential opponents ranked by who they want to face.

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1. San Antonio Spurs

Ranking Dallas Mavericks potential NBA play-in tournament opponents: 1. San Antonio Spurs
Mar 10, 2021; Dallas, Texas, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) and center Kristaps Porzingis (6) celebrate as San Antonio Spurs guard Derrick White (4) looks on during the second half at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs and Mavericks have one of the best rivalries in recent NBA history. Meeting in the first ever play-in tournament would be oddly fitting. Luckily for Dallas, this all-Texas tilt would favor the Mavericks.

DeMar DeRozan always kills the Mavs, averaging 25.1 points, 7 assists, and 5.7 rebounds in nine matchups since becoming a Spur. There’s no other threat that will worry Dallas much.

One of the Mavericks’ big weaknesses is interior defense, but the Spurs don’t have the personnel to capitalize. Jakob Poetl may do well on the offensive glass, which is fine, because Dallas won’t mind him taking shots. The same goes for Keldon Johnson and the other Spurs big men.

Dallas won the season series 2-1 and came within a few bounces of sweeping. If the Mavericks could choose who they wanted to face, the San Antonio Spurs would be first on their list.

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2. Memphis Grizzlies

Ranking Dallas Mavericks potential NBA play-in tournament opponents: 2. Memphis Grizzlies
Apr 14, 2021; Memphis, Tennessee, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) shoots a three-point basket against the Memphis Grizzlies as time expired in the fourth quarter at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

If the season ended today, Dallas would face Memphis in the game deciding the seventh seed. A solid young team, the Grizzlies are the team most similar to the Mavericks in the NBA. 

In the second half of the season, Jonas Valanciunas has been unstoppable. The Lithuainian is averaging 17 points and 12.6 rebounds on the season, but has been considerably better in his last 20 games. In the most recent game against Dallas, Valanciunas scored 19 points to go along with 15 rebounds.

With Kristaps Porzingis’ defense being poor all season and Dwight Powell still not 100% from his Achilles injury, Valanciunas would look to feast on the Mavericks.

What’s prevented the Grizzlies from being even better this season is their inability to finish off wins. Memphis is just 12-14 in clutch games, including a terrible loss against the Mavericks. Dallas shot just 13-of-40 from beyond the arc and would have lost if not for some Luka magic — and Grayson Allen’s missed free throws.

The Mavs are 2-0 against the Grizzlies with one duel remaining this season, and they should be able to beat them in another one-off showdown.

3. New Orleans Pelicans

Ranking Dallas Mavericks potential NBA play-in tournament opponents: 3. New Orleans Pelicans
Mar 27, 2021; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (1) dribbles around Dallas Mavericks forward Maxi Kleber (42) during the second half at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

The least likely team to make the play-in tournament, the Pelicans have to consider this season a disappointment. Expectations were high with Brandon Ingram coming off a career year and Zion Williamson entering his second season.

Alas, New Orleans’ defense has been atrocious, ranking 27th in defensive rating at 114.6. On offense, the Pels have struggled with spacing, with no starters known for their 3-point shooting — especially after trading JJ Redick to Dallas. The Pelicans rank near the bottom of the league in 3-point percentage, attempts, and makes.

However, the Mavs need to be deeply concerned about Zion. The phenom has averaged 31.7 points in three career matchups against the Mavs. Even more indicative of his dominant play, Williamson set his career high in points in both games against Dallas this season, first with 36 and then with 38 points.

Most teams struggle against Williamson, but the Mavs haven’t shown they can even slow him down. In a single-elimination format, Williamson can take control of the moment and lead his team to a win. Dallas will hope to not face him.

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4. Golden State Warriors

Ranking Dallas Mavericks potential NBA play-in tournament opponents: 4. Golden State Warriors
Feb 6, 2021; Dallas, Texas, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) reacts to being fouled and knocked to the floor by Dallas Mavericks forward Maxi Kleber (not pictured) during the second half at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Similar to the Pelicans with Zion, the Warriors are most feared because of Stephen Curry. The dark-horse MVP candidate has been lighting up the league recently. In a recent win against the Philadelphia 76ers, Curry recorded his 11th straight 30-point game and fifth 40-point game since the start of April. The Warriors star is the hottest player in basketball and no team wants to face him in an elimination game. 

The Mavericks have not fared well against the Warriors this season, either. In the first meeting, Dallas was decimated, losing by 31 points. Kelly Oubre Jr. had 40 points, as Curry didn’t even play in the fourth quarter. The Mavs won the next clash, but Curry dropped 57 points with 11 3-pointers. If Curry has another game like that, the Mavericks are unlikely to win again.

Dallas should feel confident against any of these teams. After all, they’ll probably finish with a better record than all of them. Having said that, the Mavs would definitely prefer playing the Spurs or Grizzlies over the Warriors or Pelicans.

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