Can Mavs measure up to West's best?

The goal the Dallas Mavericks set for the regular season is to earn one of the top four seeds in the Western Conference playoffs.

That's going to be awfully hard to do if the Mavs can't beat any of their competitors for home-court advantage in the first round.

That hasn't happened yet. The Mavs are 0-4 against the rest of the teams in the West's top eight and 16-2 against everybody else.

"We've set ourselves up for most improved," coach Rick Carlisle deadpanned when asked about the Mavs' winless record against the West's best.

Ideally, that improvement would begin this week, when the Mavs face two of the teams above them in the West standings. Dallas has a road game against the 16-4 Memphis Grizzlies on Tuesday and hosts the NBA-best 17-2 Golden State Warriors on Saturday, with a Wednesday game against the New Orleans Pelicans that is far from a layup.

"We would like to play well against these teams and prove to ourselves and show everybody that we're one of the top-tier teams," Chandler Parsons said. "To do that, we're going to have to come out here and beat these teams.

How good are the Mavs? They figure they'll get a pretty good idea this week.

"Hey, we're going to find out what we're made of this week," Carlisle said. "That's the truth."

Having said that, regardless of this week's results, it's way too early to reach any conclusions about whether the Mavs can be legitimate contenders in the loaded West. In fact, an argument can be made that the Mavs' record against fellow West playoff teams will be completely irrelevant, other than the impact on their seed once the postseason begins.

Case in point: the Mavs' 2010-11 title team.

If you'll recall, many pundits picked the Mavs to lose in the first round of those playoffs. Few, if any, projected the Mavs to get by the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers in the second round.

There was sound logic in those predictions. The Mavs were 2-15 against the other West playoff teams after New Year's Day that season.

It's not as if this edition of the Mavs lacks quality wins. They are 3-0 against East teams with winning records, winning on the road against the 15-5 Toronto Raptors, the 13-6 Washington Wizards and the 12-8 Chicago Bulls.

But the Mavs readily acknowledge that, with two West heavyweights on the schedule, this week will be their best test so far this season.

"It's a big week for us, but really, if you look at the Western Conference standings, every loss can be big," Dirk Nowitzki said.

The Mavs are still searching for their first big win against a West foe. They've got a couple of golden opportunities to get one this week.