The New Orleans Pelicans are in the midst of a three-game homestand against teams sitting among the eight playoff positions in the Western Conference.
It's still early in the season, but these games will provide a gauge of where the Pelicans stand in their quest to join that group.
The homestand didn't get off to a good start with a 129-126 loss Monday to the Los Angeles Clippers, who are tied with Denver for the best record in the Western Conference.
"We played hard and we competed hard and at the end of the day, they're the best team in the West -- by record, they're the best team in the West," New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry said. "So those are the teams that we're going to have to try to find a way, especially at home, to beat."
Another such team is the surprising Dallas Mavericks, who visit the Smoothie King Center on Wednesday before the Memphis Grizzlies come to town Friday.
Dallas is doing pretty well during its own West test. The Mavericks have won nine of 11 overall after a 111-102 home victory against Portland on Tuesday. That gave them three wins in four games against West contenders in the last week.
They won at Houston and lost at the Lakers before winning at home against the Clippers on Sunday.
"There are a lot of good teams bunched together right now," Mavericks forward Harrison Barnes told the Dallas Morning News. "Maybe it'll start clearing up soon, but maybe not. It should be fun for the fans."
The Pelicans have lost six of their last eight games. They are missing starting point guard Elfrid Payton, who's expected to miss about another month after undergoing surgery on a fractured finger.
Starting forward Nikola Mirotic missed the game against Clippers because of illness. Julius Randle took his spot in the starting lineup and scored a career-high 37 points, but fouled out with 4:04 remaining and New Orleans couldn't hang on to a small lead.
"In those situations I've just got to be a little bit more careful," Randle said. "When you are playing aggressive, trying to make things happen, it goes like that sometimes. I've just got to be better, smarter in those situations, more mindful. When I'm in those situations, I can't pick up tick-tack fouls."
The Mavericks raced to a 34-20 lead after the first quarter and never relinquished the lead against the Blazers. Rookie Luka Doncic returned after missing the game against the Clippers because of a hip injury. Doncic, who was selected by the Atlanta Hawks with the third pick in the June draft and traded to the Mavericks, scored 21 points to lead five Mavericks in double figures.
Dallas is close to getting another key player back as star forward Dirk Nowitzki took part in a scrimmage during practice Monday. It was the latest step in Nowitzki's return from surgery on his left ankle in April.
"It's good to see him playing against some NBA players," Barnes told the Morning News. "He's usually playing against the interns. It's been fun to see this. He's getting close."
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