Mavericks v. Lakers: Who's No. 2?

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The Dallas Mavericks say tonight's showdown against the Los Angeles Lakers isn't a statement game.

The Dallas Mavericks are lying.

Beating the Timberwolves, Warriors, Jazz, Suns and -- last night -- the Clippers doesn't mean diddly poo. If the Mavs don't beat the Lakers tonight at 9:30 in Staples Center it'll mean their critics are right.

Same ol' soft as ever Mavs.

It's the biggest game of the season for a couple of reasons:

*At 53-21, Dallas trails 53-20 L.A. by .5 games in the Western Conference standings. This is their last meeting of the season, and with only eight games remaining a loss would all but secure the Mavs the third seed in the upcoming playoffs. A win would give them a fighting chance for No. 2. (Remember, as the Pacific Division champs L.A. has the automatic tiebreaker edge). The importance is that the No. 2 seed would get home court advantage during a potential second-round matchup.

*Maybe just as important ...

The Mavs need a late-season signature victory.

This season they've beaten the Celtics, Heat, Spurs and Lakers, but all of those came relatively early in the season. More recently Dallas lost at home to San Antonio and the Lakers, 96-91, on March 12. (They beat the Lakers at American Airlines Center on January 19.)

Against the West's top eight teams this season the Mavs are only 2-9 and have lost their last six.

The Lakers have won nine in a row at home, seven in a row at home and are 15-1 since the All-Star break. The Mavs are an NBA-best 27-10 on the road and a remarkable 54-24 away from home the last two seasons, but this would be their biggest road win of the season, if not the last two.

To set up this showdown the Mavs beat the Clippers by six last night thanks to point guard J.J. Barea's fellow Puerto Rico native Zuleyka Rivera, better known as Miss Universe 2006. Barea, who is dating Rivera, scored 16 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter.

Says the diminutive Barea of the seemingly unlikely relationship, "She has NBA League Pass now. She watches our games. It's pretty good, man."

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