With a 9-4 record in the month of March, the Mavericks are the only team in the race for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference that appears to be peaking at the right time. As a result, they're now only 1.5 games behind the Lakers for the final playoff spot. On Tuesday, they'll get a chance to move even closer when they play the Clippers at home.
L.A., meanwhile, can ill afford a loss to a team below .500. They're locked in a tight battle with Denver and Memphis for the No. 3 seed, with all three teams within one game of each other in the standings. All three would like home-court advantage in the first round and desperately want to avoid a brutal first-round series in a Western Conference five deep with legitimate teams.
Dallas will need to find a way to get Dirk Nowitzki the ball, as he's finally rounding into shape after missing the first two months of the season with a knee injury. In the last five games, Nowitzki is averaging 20 points a game on 64% shooting. However, he's only taken more than 11 shots twice in that stretch, as inconsistent play from the Mavericks PG's -- Darren Collison and Mike James -- has often turned Dirk into a decoy for long stretches.
On the other side of the floor, Dirk will likely be hidden on DeAndre Jordan, which could mean a huge game for Blake Griffin since none of the Mavericks C's can physically match up with him. Griffin, whose averaging 18 points, 8.5 rebounds and 4 assists a game on 57% shooting this season, could have a field day against Chris Kaman (too slow), Brandan Wright (too skinny) and Elton Brand (too old).
Battle of the Sixth Men
One of the key match-ups to watch will be the battle between two of the best bench scorers in the NBA -- Jamal Crawford and Vince Carter. Crawford, who won the Sixth Man of the Year Award for the Hawks in 2010, is one of the front-runners for the honor this season, averaging 17 points and 2.5 assists a game on 44% shooting. Carter, meanwhile, has been re-energized in Dallas, averaging 13 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists on 44% shooting. Both players have the ability to shoot their teams in and out of games in a stretch of 4-5 minutes.