- Tim MacMahon, ESPN Staff Writer
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After losing to the Nuggets on Wednesday night, the Mavericks are only one game ahead of the Oklahoma City Thunder for the third seed in the West with four regular-season games remaining. As a division champion, the Thunder would have the tiebreaker despite losing the season series to Dallas.
"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," Denver coach George Karl told Ian Fitzsimmons of ESPN 103.3 FM's Galloway and Company, referring to Thunder forward Kevin Durant and point guard Russell Westbrook. "They have two All-Stars who are really in their prime and have never won on the playoff stage. I just think right now our speed might have more effect against Dallas than it will against Oklahoma City."
The Mavericks, who have lost their last four games and are 8-9 since a 21-1 run, are slumping as the postseason approaches. Dallas has lost its last nine games against West playoff teams.
"I personally like to be in a better mode of winning more games than probably Dallas," Karl said. "I like winning to be your partner going into the playoffs. Some coaches don't, but I personally think you don't have to win every game, but you want to be at least in a winning mode.
"I will give the benefit of the doubt that the Mavericks are a veteran, older team that understands the playoffs. I think they'll be energized for the playoffs."
The Nuggets defeated the Mavericks in five games during the second round of the 2009 playoffs. Denver won this season's series, 3-1.
Karl, who mentioned that the Nuggets would have the "luxury" to double-team off of Shawn Marion, believes that the Mavericks are a less difficult team to defend than the Thunder because Dallas is a single-dimensional offensive threat. Led by sweet-shooting power forward Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavericks rank 28th in the league in points in the paint and 26th in the league in free throws attempted.
"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 get to the free throw line more and I wish they would score more around the basket."
Tim MacMahon covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com.
10hMarc Stein and Mike Mazzeo
4dIan O'Connor, ESPN Senior Writer