The Dallas Mavericks visit the Indiana Pacers
It’s almost an irrelevant discussion by now, but as recently as a week ago, those with an eye to the Mavs pondered the perks of playoffs versus the lottery. This team almost certainly doesn’t have the chops of a championship contender (or if they have them stowed away in some secret compartment, I have yet to see them), so at best the playoffs are an extension to a season most view as an exercise in mediocrity. Sure, every team in the playoffs technically has a chance to win it all, but at what minute fraction of a fraction does it become more worth our while to try our luck at the lottery balls?
The Mavs are a veteran team, and that route isn’t exactly an appetizing one. Just making the playoffs is a bare bones accomplishment, but for a team of proud, veteran players, it could offer enough consolation to keep them from tossing and turning in bed every night for the next three months. And, of course, the financial incentives are well worth the Mavs’ while, especially when considering the team’s massive payroll and luxury tax payout.
Simply, the difference between potentially the 14th pick and the 20th pick or so isn’t worth the fuss. What the Mavs would gain in a (possibly) marginally more talented/productive player, they would almost certainly lose in whatever quantitative way there is to measure mental health. The hot line with the Mavs has always been that they lack the sort of fiery, on-court leader that forges championship mettle with his bear hands; if that’s as true as believed, then missing the playoffs with two future Hall-of-Famers, not to mention two players who fancy themselves borderline All-Stars, could be a stroke of death.
The Indiana Pacers find themselves in a similar discussion, but with a decidedly different outlook. For them, making the playoffs isn’t as much a testament to their longevity and a shallow fulfillment of their own personal expectations, but a fairly significant breakthrough for a roster that has been continually limited by circumstance. Danny Granger and Mike Dunleavy, the team’s two best players, have battled injury all season. Almost every other rotation player has missed at least a handful of games, sometimes leaving a cast of role players to accomplish what teams at full-strength often struggle to do: win games. At their best, they’re world-beaters, a potent offensive club that overcomes deficiencies with a sense of direction. Sometimes the compass may be pointing the wrong way, but at least their direction is conclusive.
What would making the playoffs mean to the Pacers? I’d wager an awful lot; Jarrett Jack, Troy Murphy and Mike Dunleavy (though he’s injured) have never even tasted the playoffs, and it goes without saying that rookies Roy Hibbert and Brandon Rush have yet to play their first postseason game. Something tells me that those players, Murph and Dunleavy in particular, might want to take a crack at the playoffs, even if it means nothing more than a beatdown at the hand of the Cavaliers. If it doesn’t happen this year, it would certainly be disappointing, but it’s also completely understandable given the myriad of injuries. The Pacers are in an oddly accomodating situation for a team on the playoff bubble; their injuries arm them with the perfect write-off, a playoff berth would bring a newfound sense of fulfillment and justification, and a draft pick in the lottery would only serve to help their cause next year with a healthy, matured roster.
That seems to be the theme with the Mavs in comparison to the rest of those on the fringes of relevance. These teams have been to the bottom, and they’ve seen just how dark it can get. Dallas, on the other hand, has glimpsed the summit. Though they’re stranded with no apparent means of reaching their goal, claims to fear their half-way camp much more than the fall. They could be in for a rude awakening when glorified visions of falling with style transform into the panic and fear of a freefall, but we’ll tackle that monster when we come to it. For now, the Mavs will do their best MacGyver, and try to fashion a pickaxe from dental floss, a tube sock, and a metal spork.