HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Omar the Barber will be in the house Thursday night as the Dallas Mavericks take on the Indiana Pacers, the Mavs’ first attempt at reaching .500 since they were 12-13 in what seems like an eternity ago.
You might recall — and if you’ve seen Dirk Nowitzki lately you can’t forget — that some of the Mavs made a pact nearly two months ago not to shave until they reach .500. At the time it seemed a futile attempt to drum up motivation. Yet here they are, not only a whisker shy of breaking even at 35-36, but actually surging toward the No. 8 seed, having won nine of their last 12.
After a rousing overtime win over the Los Angeles Clippers Tuesday night, Mavs guard O.J. Mayo, whose beard isn’t quite yet Harden-esque but maddeningly itchy all the same mentioned that tickets will be left for Omar, the team’s favored barber, and his shears.
“I want to make sure he does it right. I don’t want to leave no patches,” said Mayo. “I haven’t done anything [to it], just kind of lined my mustache up a little bit, but letting it go. I’ve got hair up here and I’m ready to shave it, man.”
Nowitzki, who hasn’t finished a season below .500 since his second season in the NBA when the Mavs went 40-42 in 1999-2000, has guided Dallas to the playoffs in each of the last 12 seasons. But he was superstitious and not so keen about mentioning bringing in the barber before actually getting the shave-worthy win.
“I don’t really want to jinx it, but I’m ready to get this thing off,” said Nowitzki, who has not even trimmed his neckline. “That’s a big outing for us Thursday against a very good, tough team from the Eastern Conference.”
Nowitzki does have a point. Which team will be more motivated: The Mavs, knowing the barber’s in the building? Or the Pacers, knowing the barber’s in the building?
Indiana (45-27) has its own issues, like a battle for the all-important second seed in the East with the New York Knicks. They’re virtually tied in the standings, but the Pacers have one more loss. Finishing second means avoiding the Miami Heat until the East finals rather than in the second round.
The Mavs know they just have to keep winning with 11 games to go and hope the Los Angeles Lakers (hit with Wednesday’s news that Metta World Peace will miss at least six weeks with a knee injury) and Utah Jazz, both winners Wednesday night and both just a hair ahead of Dallas, lose along the way.
If the Mavs have anything going in their favor tonight it’s that the Pacers — 20-point winners over Dallas back in November at their place — played Wednesday night, beating the Rockets at Houston, 100-91.
The Mavs, a rather pedestrian 21-14 at home, are, however, 12-2 at home against opponents playing on the second night of a back-to-back, and have won eight consecutive such matchups dating to Nov. 24 when Dallas dropped to .500 at 7-7.
With a win Thursday night, Dallas would pull even with ninth-place and idle Utah. The eighth-place Lakers play the second night of a back-to-back at Milwaukee, so a Mavs win combined with a Lakers loss would reduce L.A.’s lead to a half-game over both the Jazz and Mavs.
Of those three teams, the Mavs have played the best in March. Utah, after dropping to 3-12 since the trade deadline with a loss at Dallas on Sunday, has since won two in a row.
Which team has the upper hand down the stretch? A breakdown:
No. 8 LAKERS (37-35)
Home games left: 6 (23-12)
Road games left: 4 (14-23)
Games against current playoff teams: 6
Key game and why: vs. Dallas (Tuesday); critical in standings and would lock up tiebreaker
Toughest stretch: Tuesday – April 10 (vs. Dallas, vs. Memphis, at Clippers, vs. New Orleans, at Portland)
No. 9 JAZZ (36-36)
Home games left: 6 (26-9)
Road games left: 4 (10-27)
Games against current playoff teams: 5
Key game and why: at Portland (Friday); would extend win streak to three leading into four-game homestand
Toughest stretch: Wednesday – April 9 (vs. Denver, vs. New Orleans, at Golden State, vs. Oklahoma City)
No. 10 MAVERICKS (35-36)
Home games left: 6 (21-14)
Road games left: 5 (14-22)
Games against current playoff teams: 6
Key game and why: at Lakers (Tuesday); critical in standings and would tie season series
Toughest stretch: Tuesday – April 7 (at Lakers, at Denver, at Sacramento, at Portland)