Mavs have a lot to prove against Lakers

LOS ANGELES -- The Mavericks have walked off the court winners in their last five games. They’ve proven nothing during that winning streak.

One of those trends will reverse course Thursday night at the Staples Center.

“Tomorrow is a different kind of test,” coach Rick Carlisle said after the Mavs’ 106-100 win over the Clippers, referring to Dallas’ date with the two-time defending champion Lakers. “We know that. It’s the kind of challenge you’ve got to look forward to.”

The Mavs have consistently come up short lately when faced with this kind of challenge, putting serious doubt on their ability to join the Spurs and Lakers as legitimate contenders to win the West.

This is a team that is 2-9 against the rest of the West’s top eight in 2011. The Mavs have lost their last six meetings against their West playoff peers. The combined difference in those games is only 17 points, including a 96-91 home loss to the Lakers on March 12.

Close games or not, that’s still a pretty troubling trend, right?

“No,” Dirk Nowitzki said, representing the consensus opinion in the Mavs’ locker room. “We’re still right there with everybody. Hopefully, we’ll get a big win tomorrow. That’ll be a good one to get.”

The win over the Clippers was simply one the Mavs had to have. Jason Terry made only two of 11 shots from the floor, but he was on the money with his postgame assessment of the opponent.

“They’re a bad team,” Terry said. “That’s not a good team, so we had to win.”

That’s exactly why the closer-than-it-shoulda-been win was pretty much forgotten about by the time the Mavs finished their showers. Their focus is locked in on trying to fry the league’s biggest fish.

A win over the Lakers would change a lot of things. Perception of the Mavs would certainly be a bit different if they beat up the NBA’s toughest bully in a hostile environment while playing the butt end of a back-to-back. More importantly, the West standings would shift.

The Mavs are a half-game behind the Lakers in the race for the West’s second seed. Of course, the folks in L.A. can be forgiven for spending more time wondering whether the Lakers (15-1 since the All-Star break) can erase the Spurs’ 3 ½-game lead than worrying about the Mavs.

If the Mavs manage to beat the Lakers, who will own the tiebreaker regardless of the season series because they will own a division title, the battle for homecourt advantage in the second round will go down to the wire. If the rested Lakers continue rolling Thursday night, the Mavs are pretty much locked into the third seed.

“It’s not the end of the world to be 3, but we’re going for it,” said Nowitzki, who scored a team-high 24 points in the win over the Clippers. “We’re going to leave it all out there tomorrow and until the playoffs. We’ll see what happens, where we are at the end.”

They might have a pretty good idea of where they’ll be at the end of the regular season by the time they board their plane in Los Angeles late Thursday night.

It's time for the Mavs to prove themselves against a playoff peer. If they can't do that, consider them second-class citizens in the Western Conference.