Dallas Mavericks' Dirk Nowitzki (41), of Germany, defends on a shot by Phoenix Suns' Marcin Gortat (4), of Poland, in the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, April 10, 2011, in Dallas. (AP Photo/ Richard W. Rodriguez)


As I wrote in the game preview, the Mavericks had to make a decision: do they want to play with fire in the playoffs (tough first round, but easier second round), or take the less-stressful, long summer road (one easier round, followed by certain death against the Lakers)?

We may never know, because the Phoenix Suns didn't give the Mavericks a chance to decide. Neither Planet Orange nor Planet Purple bothered to show up for the game in Dallas tonight, and the Mavericks scrimmaged their way to a win. Now the Mavs have the inside track on the 3 seed and at best a second-round playoff exit.

And the Suns? Off for a long vacation in 3 days.

The Suns had 3 games left as of today - a prime opportunity to play their young guys a lot of minutes to see what they could give the team in the future. The Suns did this 2 seasons ago with Lopez and Dragic, and it paid dividends in 2009-2010 as both players helped the team go deep in the playoffs.

This year? Not so much. Dragic and Clark were traded this season for "win now" talent (Gortat/Pietrus/Carter, Brooks) and last summer's draft pick Gani Lawal is out for the season with injury.

Only Robin Lopez and Garret Siler are younger than 25. They teamed up for a grand total of 16 minutes, 6 points and 1 rebound (all points and rebounds by Siler).

Again: ugh.

So what's the Bright Side? How about this: when the Suns make several more roster moves this summer, none of us will be whining about "too much change". This team HAS to change drastically to be any good again. There's no future in winning 38-40 games a season. All it gets you is a bad lottery pick.

Nash returns tonight. Can he stick it to Dallas one more time?  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Dallas Mavericks 115, Phoenix Suns 90 With the postseason out of the question, is there really much left to play for? Is it worth it to keep running the starters out there and playing them 30 or more...

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Dirk: am I going home early yet again? (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

While the Suns face an uncertain future, one thing seems sure: the 13th pick in the upcoming NBA draft (less than 1% chance to win the lottery).

Utah is in the catbird seat for the 12th pick, holding a 2 game lead over the Suns (1 fewer win, plus the tiebreak by losing the season series), while Houston has the 14th pick locked in with a 3-game lead of their own. Considering there's only 2 or 3 games left for each team, the suspense is over.

The Dallas Mavericks, on the other hand, could finish anywhere from 2-4 in the conference standings. Big Whup, right? Well, to Dallas I believe it should be a big, big whup because no one wants to play Denver in the first round. If Dallas fades to 4th (OKC is only 1 game back with 3 winnable games to go), they get to face the fast and furious Denver Nuggets and will likely be first-round losers yet again.

Click the jump for much more preview... 

Denver Nuggets Want To Face The Dallas Mavericks In The Playoffs. - The Heart of Texas - SB Nation Dallas

The Nuggets have stated the obvious already - that it's preferable to face the fading Mavs (old, losers of 4 of 5, and a perennial playoff loser) over the young, studly Thunder.

"If we had to pick and choose on it, we would probably say 55 percent Dallas, 45 percent Oklahoma City, only because Oklahoma City is athletic like we are and they have two great players."In a lot of ways, I think their strength is their weakness," Karl said. "Their strength is they have tremendous ability to score by making jump shots. They are the best jump shooting team in the NBA by far. [Coach Rick] Carlisle is a very good offensive guy in getting good shots and tricking teams into open shots. They're very unselfish in finding the open man and getting open jump shots.

"In some sense, the jump shot doesn't go in as much as scoring in the paint. The two things I would say is I wish Dallas would score more in the paint and get to the free throw line more."

Wow, big bulletin-board material for a playoff juggernaut right?

Somehow, I doubt it. The Mavericks and their core of Nowitzki and Terry (and the other guys have changed over the years) know they have trouble once it comes to playoff time. They know it because they prove it year after year. And the Nuggets don't give a rat's behind about any of that.

The question the Mavs have to ask themselves is this: how important is it to win a playoff series?

Western Standings

San Antonio Spurs 80 61-19 .763
Los Angeles Lakers 79 55-24 .696
Dallas Mavericks 79 54-25 .684
Oklahoma City Thunder 79 53-26 .671
Denver Nuggets 80 49-31 .613
Portland Trail Blazers 80 47-33 .588
New Orleans Hornets 79 46-33 .582
Memphis Grizzlies 79 45-34 .570
Houston Rockets 80 42-38 .525
Phoenix Suns 79 38-41 .481
Utah Jazz 80 37-43 .463
Golden State Warriors 79 35-44 .443
Los Angeles Clippers 81 31-50 .383
Sacramento Kings 79 23-56 .291
Minnesota Timberwolves 80 17-63 .213


If a second round showing is good enough, then fight like crazy for the 2nd or 3rd seed. Round 1 should be winnable (Portland/NO/Memphis), but round 2 looms the Lake show. By contrast, if you can win Round 1 as the 4 seed, the 1-4-5-8 bracket should provide an easier Round 2 - the fading Spurs or Memphis/NO.

So Dallas has a quandry. Take the risk/reward of the 1-4-5-8 bracket? Or the bird-in-hand 2-3-6-7 bracket with the lower ceiling?

We'll see tonight.

The Suns, as I mentioned above, have little to play for besides pride. They can't even improve their draft position unless they "lose out" (which is quite possible) and Utah "wins out" (highly, highly unlikely). Utah faces 2 playoff teams in their final 2 games - New Orleans and Denver - and they've shown 0 interest in winning, losing 10 of 11 (good showing, Lakers!).

The Jazz have a bright future, though it's without a superstar. SF Gordon Heyward and PF Derrick Favors are nice building blocks, along with 2 lottery picks in the upcoming draft (currently 6th and 12th). They could conceivably win the lottery twice and take future stars at PG and SF or C. Still, they will need a superstar (just as the Suns do) if they want to contend again, but that's a lot nicer future than the Suns currently face.

At least Steve Nash isn't asking for a trade.

Phoenix Suns in transition as possible NBA lockout looms

"I want to stay and be part of the franchise moving forward," Nash said. "I would love to see us improve. I'm not going to be satisfied or happy on a team that doesn't make the playoffs, but it's up to us to fight and improve. Whether it was announced or desired, this is a team in transition. We've made moves continuously since July 1, and I don't think we're quite settled on what we want to be. I don't think management is going to stop until they get a group or project they feel good about."

Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/sports/suns/articles/2011/04/07/20110407phoenix-suns-transition-nba-lockout.html#ixzz1J8BkFK9z



What will the Suns do this summer? Who knows.

But for tonight, Nash looks to help the Suns pile on the Mavericks sloppy finish.

The big silver lining to tonight's game is for the Phoenix Suns to "help" the Mavs drop to the 4th seed and watch them get run off the floor by the Nuggets in the Round 1.

Suns' new role: playoff spoiler.

In a season gone sour, sometimes the little things are all there is left to enjoy. For New Orleans, tonight’s 109-97 victory was about Willie Green canning his first 12 shots to help the...

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