Mavs contenders or pretenders?

Behold, everyone, our new Western contender … but you might not want to look too closely.

With their eighth straight win Monday -- a streak that includes seven victories over playoff contenders -- the Dallas Mavericks eased past the Denver Nuggets into the No. 2 spot in the Western Conference. And the streak might not end any time soon. The Mavericks' next seven games look eminently winnable (home against Minnesota, Sacramento, New Jersey, New York and Chicago; at Chicago and Minnesota), which could have them riding a 15-game win streak when Boston visits March 20. Things will get significantly more difficult from there, but if Dallas takes care of business against the doormats, it should hang on to its second seed in the West.