Sunday, March 30, 2008

Mavs can't bridge the gap at Golden State

OAKLAND – Now this is tight. The three-team dog pile at the bottom of the Western Conference playoff picture took a new dimension after Golden State held off the Mavericks 114-104 Sunday night at ORACLE Arena.

The Mavs, Warriors and Denver are all tied with 45-28 records (seventh best in the West) with nine games left in the regular season. The tiebreaking scenarios are too numerous to mention, especially with games left to be played among the three.

The Mavs, up 2-1 in the season series, host Golden State on Wednesday. The Warriors and Nuggets square off one more time. Denver won the series 2-1 from Dallas. Though nothing has been settled throughout the conference, it appears the final two postseason spots will come from this trio.

That, of course, can change. And it will. As of the close of NBA business Sunday night, the tiebreaker formula had the Nuggets and Mavs in the playoffs, as the seventh and eighth seeds, respectively, and Golden State at ninth.

“It’s not exactly fun for us,” Avery Johnson said after the fifth loss in the last six games. “We’d like to be third or fourth. I don’t want to be part of that three-team (race).”

Golden State was coming off a 119-112 loss at Denver the previous night that was as physically demanding as the score indicates. The high-scoring trio of Stephen Jackson, Monta Ellis and Baron Davis each played at least 44 ½ minutes before flying back to Oakland after the game.

The Mavs, on the other hand, had a two-day break after leaving Denver late Thursday night and took advantage of the Warriors’ heavy legs. Josh Howard and Jason Terry combined for 10 points in the blazing 12-0 that covered the first four minutes.

The lead was still 12 (21-9) when Golden State caught its breath and began to mount a comeback. The jumpers started falling, Dallas’ stopped and the Warriors actually took a 27-26 edge into the second period.

The Warriors played with the lead for the rest of the night and it topped out at 14 in the third quarter. But the Mavs continued to battle, as they have throughout these trying times. Howard (36 points) continued to step up, hitting the 30-point plateau for the third straight time without Dirk Nowitzki in the lineup, and almost single-handedly willing a victory.

The Mavs were within four twice in the fourth quarter and both times Golden State answered with a 3-pointer to keep Dallas at arm’s length. The Mavs have dropped the first two on this three-game trip that ends Monday at the Los Angeles Clippers.

“We couldn’t get stops when we needed to, especially in the fourth quarter,” Johnson said.

The record has also dropped to 10-10 with Kidd, who again flirted with his first triple-double since returning to the Mavs. He finished with 13 points, 14 assists and nine rebounds. Terry filled in for an injured Jerry Stackhouse with 15 points, but missed 10 of 15 shots.

“Hopefully we can catch some breaks sometime here soon,” Johnson said. “Again, the effort is there.”

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