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Friday, April 27, 2012
Updated: April 28, 11:18 AM ET
Mavs' Mark Cuban: West wide open

By Jeff Caplan
ESPNDallas.com

ATLANTA -- Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban believes the Western Conference is there for the taking as the NBA playoffs get under way this weekend.

"Like I've said all year long, the regular season means next to nothing," Cuban said Thursday. "Every single team, even the Spurs for a period there when they go through a tough part of their schedule, struggle. ... There was nobody that was overly impressive. So we'll see what happens."

Cuban isn't concerned that the defending champions ended the regular season with consecutive losses or that 30 defeats in this lockout-shortened 66-game season equaled the Mavericks' total from last season's 82-game regular season and playoffs combined.

The Mavs owner believes the remaining veteran nucleus of Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Jason Terry and Shawn Marion -- plus newcomers such as Vince Carter and Delonte West -- can still make a deep push in the postseason.

"We've got veterans and we've gone this way in the playoffs," Cuban said. "Our guys are strong-willed, strong-minded. You don't last in the league as long as Dirk, J-Kidd, Trix [Marion], Vince. You don't last as long as those guys and have the success that they've had without being strong-minded."

Dallas begins its title defense in earnest at Oklahoma City on Saturday night. The Thunder, led by three-time league scoring champ Kevin Durant and explosive point guard Russell Westbrook, remain heavy favorites to emerge from the West despite losing their long-held grip on the No. 1 seed to the Spurs.

Yet, even the Spurs, who won 50 games for a 13th consecutive season, aren't perfect, according to Cuban. The Spurs lost last season in the first round as the No. 1 seed.

"The Spurs have been playing great, obviously, because they've been shooting really well," Cuban said. "But, we've been that team before, too, and they were that team last year."

The Mavs ousted the Thunder in five games in the West finals, winning twice at Oklahoma City, including rallying from a 15-point deficit in Game 4 to take a 3-1 lead. Oklahoma City turned the tables during the regular season, winning three of four by being the better team in crunch time.

Durant won the first meeting at Oklahoma City with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer and the Thunder twice won games that were tied in the final two minutes.

The Mavs, who have endured a string of injuries this season, have not played like a championship-caliber squad during the regular season. Since their high-water mark of 20-11 on Feb. 17, Dallas went 16-19 the rest of the way.

"I still like where we're at now," Nowitzki said. "We still can be a dangerous team. It's what we talked about all season: get in the playoffs. We just got to let it all rip and see what happens this weekend."