Mavericks look for improvement against Pelicans

NBA Basketball

The Dallas Mavericks are in good position to skip the Western Conference play-in tournament and go straight to the playoffs.

The New Orleans Pelicans will be eliminated from playoff and play-in contention if they lose to the host Mavericks on Wednesday night.

Dallas (40-29) is tied with Portland for fifth place after a 133-104 loss at Memphis on Tuesday night that ended a four-game winning streak. If the playoffs started now, the Mavericks would be the No. 6 seed — the final guaranteed playoff spot.

“It wasn’t good enough,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said of his team’s effort. “We had stretches where we played well, but it didn’t feel like there was a collective will for 48 minutes. And, look, that’s what we’ve got to have.

“We’re all disappointed. We know we’ve got to do better. To the extent that guys on the team are feeling like we’ve got things made or whatever, I don’t know that. I certainly hope that’s not the case.”

Mavs leading scorer Luka Doncic scored just 12 points against the Grizzlies after shooting 4 of 16 from the floor and missing all four of his 3-point attempts.

“That game is on me,” Doncic said. “I wasn’t here. I wasn’t myself. We’ve got to bounce back, but that game was obviously one of the worst games I’ve ever played and I’ve got to be better than that.”

Tim Hardaway Jr. led Dallas with 19 points, Willie Cauley-Stein scored a season-high 16 and Jalen Brunson had 15, but Memphis outscored Dallas 36-25 in the third quarter to take a 96-82 lead at the end of the period.

Kristaps Porzingis has missed the Mavericks’ past seven games because of right knee soreness but might return against New Orleans.

Even if the Pelicans beat the Mavericks, they still could be eliminated if the San Antonio Spurs win at Brooklyn on Wednesday. New Orleans’ only path to the play-in tournament is to win its final three games and have the Spurs lose their last three.

The Pelicans (31-38) have lost two of their past three games while their starting frontcourt of Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram and Steven Adams has been sidelined by injuries. They trailed by double digits in each game but fought back in each, falling in the final seconds at Philadelphia and Memphis with a two-point victory at Charlotte sandwiched in between.

“Our guys did fight and stay in it,” New Orleans coach Stan Van Gundy said after the 115-110 loss to the Grizzlies on Monday. “They have done that all year. It’s never a problem with that.”

The absence of the starters has allowed young players such as second-year center Jaxson Hayes and second-year guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker to demonstrate they might be ready for expanded roles next season.

“I believe our team is built on the right things,” said Alexander-Walker, who scored a team-high 18 against Memphis. “Everyone is mentally pushing for the right things. Guys want to win, guys want to play hard, guys care. I think it’s showing because even in the midst of a tough situation, we always find ourselves battling back and making it a game.”

Dallas and New Orleans have split their first two meetings this season. The Mavericks won 143-130 on Feb. 12 in Dallas and the Pelicans won 112-103 on March 27 in New Orleans.

–Field Level Media

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