What's The Point Of The Mavericks Reaching The Playoffs This Year?

Jason Terry's return to the American Airlines Center on Friday night brought with it a whole slew of fond memories.

It was the first time this season that Dallas' former sixth man returned to Dallas since donning the green and white of the Boston Celtics, and when he entered the game late in the first quarter, a smile crept across his face as a loud ovation from Mavericks fans greeted him.

Though Terry may no longer play for the Mavericks, the fans and team here are clearly endeared to him. And why not? Terry is an original. He brazenly tattooed the Larry O'Brien Trophy onto his bicep before the 2010-11 season. He would fly down the court, arms outstretched. He excited the crowd and funneled his fans' emotions.

Indeed, he was every bit a core part of the Mavericks fabric as Dirk Nowitzki.

Those days may be gone, yes. But the memories haven’t faded.

But Terry is still helping make dreams come true for this franchise. On Friday night, Terry revived for the Mavericks and their fans hope that this year's team could still make the playoffs.

Terry played poorly in that contest, which the Mavericks won by way of a comfortable 104-94 final score. Perhaps too eager to impress his old fans, Terry played out of control for the bulk of the 22 minutes he registered in the game, committing three turnovers and scoring just eight points on a 3-for-9 shooting display and missing a couple of open layups in the process.

And so, if only unintentionally, Terry opened a window for Dallas as this NBA season starts to near its end. After having lost at home to the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday (and giving up a big first quarter lead in the process) during Deron Williams' own return to town after spurning the Mavs during the off-season free agency period, the Mavericks' win over the Celtics — a team certain to make the playoffs in the pretty much set in stone Eastern Conference standings — was a major confidence boost for this team.

Sunday's subsequent win over Utah, coupled with the recent downturn in the Lakers' fortunes, have only fueled a hope that was all but snuffed out for this team weeks ago.

In a sense, it's been a miraculous turnaround. Had Nowitzki not been recovering from knee surgery at the start of this season, who knows where this team might be sitting in the standings at this point?

Hypothetical questions, of course, are futile pursuits. Here's the better question: Why is there even a fervor among this franchise and its fans to see this team return to the playoffs this season? Is it just to say that the team made it there and keep the team's run of consecutive playoff berths alive?

As is, Dallas now stands just one game below its stated aim of getting back to a .500 record and, perhaps, right on the cusp of reaching the postseason for the 13th consecutive season. Impressively, on the heels of their current three-game win streak, they've climbed their way back into contention, sitting just one game back of the Lakers for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

There's no guarantee they get there. But Terry's return to town still brought back memories of the 2011 Finals and that team's victory over the vaunted Miami Heat. A return to the playoffs this year will certainly have a different result — a result that is all too familiar for this franchise.

What fans of this team seem to so quickly forget is the years of playoff suffering that these Mavericks have endured. This team has almost always been — just as it likely remains — a team that has its mettle questioned repeatedly. Dallas lost in the first round of the playoffs five times — most recently last season — in its playoffs appearance streak. In fact, they've only advanced beyond the second round three times in that span.

The postseason has not been kind to the Mavericks. Nor has the criticism they received.

Unfairly or not, Nowitzki has shouldered much of that burden. He's the face of the franchise, after all. Labels of “soft” have followed him, and this team, everywhere. In sports culture, and especially media, a championship is the only thing that can define a player or a team. The stale argument of “Count Da Ringz” is oft-repeated, despite every logical assertion levied against it. Dallas, and Nowitzki, was a victim of this narrative until 2011.

Despite this, the playoffs do hold a certain intangible allure to them. A team that does not reach them has absolutely no shot at winning a championship — obviously. But reaching the playoffs an odd, illogical hope. There's a vague notion that any team, no matter the talent level, has a shot at winning everything. There's an inherent desire to have Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy faun over the offensive execution and defensive fortitude that a team — your team — brings to each and every playoff game. For most teams, however, this is but a pipe dream.

Only one eighth seed has ever reached the NBA Finals. The New York Knicks did so while coached by the aforementioned Van Gundy in the lockout shortened 1998-99 season, only to be defeated by the San Antonio Spurs. The lowest seed to ever win a championship was the 1994-95 Houston Rockets, who were sixth in the West that year.

A low seed usually means an early exit. An eighth seed, which the Mavericks are trying oh so hard to desperately attain, is almost certainly a death knell.

If Dallas does make the postseason this year, sure, they would keep their playoff streak alive. But, in the end, it would be a disappointment. An eighth-seed bid gives the Mavericks a likely matchup with their old foes from San Antonio. Or, perhaps instead, it would square them off against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Either way, the outlook isn't bright. Dallas has not defeated either of these teams this season. And, though there is a possibility of squeaking out a win or two against these squads in the playoffs,a first-round exit seems inevitable.

As of today, there are 11 games remaining in the 2012-2013 NBA season. None of these games stand out as particularly easy wins. Six will be against teams currently slated to make the playoffs — including the Lakers, who are precariously holding onto their playoff position. While one can never rule out the improbable — especially after Tuesday night's emotional overtime win over the Clippers — the task before Dallas is rather daunting.

This weekend, Terry reminded the city of what was. But this is a different time and a different team.

Hold onto those memories, Mavs fans. They're good memories worth recalling.

While you're at it, though, be sure to understand the present, too. For these Mavericks, the hope of making the playoffs still lives. But the dream of another championship run has already died.

Cheering this team on to make the playoffs amounts to little more than cheering in vain.

Cover photo via the NBA's official Mavericks page.

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