Does point differential mean much?

ESPN.com numbers-cruncher John Hollinger certainly thinks so. I don't deem it the determining factor for a long playoff run, but it means enough that I highlighted it in a blog post after the Charlotte win, noting the Mavs' plus-2.2-point differential is the lowest among the Western Conference's playoff teams and two full points lower than Boston, the East's No. 4 team.

Obviously, the majority of that (52 games) was handled by the pre-trade roster. The Mavs made a habit of playing down to the competition, losing games they would typically be expected to win and blowing big leads. It's why when the Mavs got off to a 19-7 start, I kept a skeptical eye on how they actually assembled the record. They've been clutch in situations where clutch should never have been needed.

Here's a taste of Hollinger's assessment:

Look a little deeper, however, and the Mavs' résumé isn't nearly as impressive. They have gone 8-1 since their trade with Washington on Feb. 13, but they have outscored their opposition by only 5.3 points per game during that time. In other words, during their best stretch of the season, they still haven't matched the scoring margin of elite teams such as the Cavs (plus-7.3), Lakers (plus-6.4) and Magic (plus-5.8), and they barely exceed the marks of the Celtics, Hawks, Nuggets, Jazz and Spurs.

The New Orleans game on Sunday night is the perfect example. The Mavs led by 25 points in the middle of the third quarter, but were fighting for their lives with two minutes to go. And that was without the magical Chris Paul. Earlier in this 8-1 run, the Mavs squandered big points that limited a blowout of the Pacers to just a nine-point win, thus damaging the their point-differential.

The fact that old habits have followed the new Mavs -- especially the Hornets game -- is at least a little disturbing.

There's no doubt the Mavs have added toughness, scoring and defense to the roster. The 8-1 run is impressive to be sure, but the Mavs have to prove that they can take care of business against the also-rans without sweating it out at the end -- and this is a good week to do that with Minnesota and Sacramento in town.

There's also this: Among the West teams currently in the eight playoff spots, only the San Antonio Spurs (20-17 in the West) and Oklahoma City Thunder (17-17) have fewer conference wins and more conference losses than the Mavs (21-16).

Again, most of that was done with the old, dysfunctional roster. In the 8-1 run, the Mavs are 2-1 against the West. They lost by seven at Oklahoma City during the Thunder's long win streak, won by 10 against Phoenix and by five against the mighty L.A. Lakers.

Those are the games to start judging these new Mavs by. So far, with the 8-1 record, it can be described as a mixed bag with an upside. Blown leads, still worrisome minutes demanded of Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd, but also solid road wins at Orlando (by 10 points), Atlanta (by eight in OT) and Charlotte (by five) to go with the home wins over the Suns and Lakers.

Mavs coach Rick Carlisle would say a win is a win. John Hollinger would not.