The Dallas Mavericks host the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday (8:30 p.m. ET, local TV and League Pass). Denver is entrenched in the No. 5 seed in the West bracket of the NBA Playoffs, but Dallas has something to play for. The Oklahoma City Thunder are just two games behind the Mavericks for No. 3 in the West and own the tiebreaker; if Dallas loses a couple games and the Thunder win out, the Mavs would find themselves facing a Denver buzzsaw instead of a less imposing (but still fierce) Blazers, Hornets or Grizzlies squad.
Think about it from Denver's angle now. If they beat Dallas here and get some help from one of the Mavericks' remaining opponents, the Nuggets can avoid a Thunder team that kicked them in the teeth pretty brutally on Tuesday and instead draw this very Mavs squad. There's real incentive to win here and hope for a first-round series against Dallas, even if Denver doesn't really have anything personal to play for.
Dallas needs some momentum; the team's lost three straight, one of them a brutal beatdown by a Lakers team that went on to lose to Denver and Utah in back-to-back games. Only Dirk Nowitzki is keeping Dallas alive, though Shawn Marion has been more frequently good than bad, even of late. Jason Terry is struggling, Jason Kidd is doing the same thing he did a year ago (disappearing) and no one else has been able to fill the void consistently. The Nuggets, meanwhile, have plenty of sub-marquee studs playing great right now, from Danilo Gallinari to Ty Lawson to Nene to Wilson Chandler. It's an interesting contrast, a permutation of the old Lakers-Suns clashes.