DALLAS -- The Dallas Mavericks can’t be considered contenders in the Western Conference.
Not until the Mavs beat a team that’s earned the right to be considered in that class.
The Mavs remain winless against the West’s best after Saturday afternoon’s 105-98 loss to the Golden State Warriors, a game in which the Mavs had to rally to make the final score appear respectable. That makes the Mavs 0-6 against the other teams among the top eight in the West standings and 17-2 against everybody else.
“We’re right there, but we haven’t beaten the good teams,” power forward Dirk Nowitzki said. “We’ve got to turn that around pretty quick. 'Right there' is just not good enough.”
It’d be ridiculously premature to panic about the Mavs’ inability to beat their West playoff peers, particularly considering the offseason turnover in Dallas, which acquired three starters among the nine newcomers to the roster. Owner Mark Cuban mentioned earlier this week that he figures the Mavs have the most potential for improvement in the West’s playoff pack.
And it’s worth mentioning that the 2010-11 Mavs went 2-15 against West playoff teams from New Year’s Day through the end of the regular season before making their championship run.
But there was a lot of talk entering this week about the test of facing the Memphis Grizzlies and Warriors in a span of five days. As Rick Carlisle said, it was a chance for the Mavs to find out what they’re made of.
“We didn’t measure well,” said center Tyson Chandler, who emphasized that the Mavs won’t achieve their potential unless they understand the challenges of playing with a small backcourt and pressure defensively. “We clearly have a lot of holes that we need to fill.”
Carlisle mentioned that the Mavs “dominated the second half” against the Warriors, but the damage was done during the disastrous first quarter, when Golden State’s Splash Brothers backcourt outscored Dallas by themselves. The Mavs didn’t get within single digits again until there were 74 seconds remaining in the game and a miracle would have been required to pull off the comeback.
The Mavs made no excuses for their failure to be ready for a matchup against the NBA’s best team after two off days for Dallas. Not the absence of small forward Chandler Parsons, who sat out with lower-back soreness. (The Warriors were missing starting center Andrew Bogut due to a knee injury.) And certainly not the 1 p.m. tip time, which was two hours earlier on the Warriors’ West Coast body clocks.
Plus, it’s not as if an awful quarter is uncharacteristic for a Mavs team that must mask significant personnel flaws on the defensive end.
It’s a trend when the Mavs face plus-.500 foes from the West. Dallas either starts slow or comes out of halftime sluggish.
It was the latter in Memphis on Tuesday, when the Grizzlies outscored the Mavs 36-17 in the third quarter. The Warriors essentially put Saturday’s game out of reach in the first quarter.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” guard Devin Harris said. “We’re beating the teams we’re supposed to, but we need to elevate the team as a whole. We need to grow as a team.”
It’s the only way for the Mavs to move up the West standings.