Hollinger's Insider Gems: Jan. 12, 2009

1. According to the Playoff Odds, we have a clear outsider in the Western Conference playoffs race. Dallas became the first of the nine Western contenders to see its odds drop below 50 percent after Sunday's 102-95 loss in Sacramento; its odds are at 49.4 percent. The Mavericks have fallen to 18th in the Power Rankings and as of Monday project to finish with only 43 wins and a 21-24 finish to their season.

That's not as unlikely as it might seem, given the Mavs' schedule. Sunday's game in Sacramento was expected to be one of only a few easy wins in a 14-game stretch that started Friday, so the loss was especially painful. Nine of Dallas' next 12 opponents have winning records, and two of the ones that don't are the misleadingly sub-.500 Milwaukee Bucks and the suddenly spry Philadelphia 76ers. Plus, eight of the 12 contests are on the road.