Thunder-Mavericks Preview

The Dallas Mavericks are rounding into form after a slow

start.

The Oklahoma City Thunder have been at or near the top of the

NBA since the season began.

Last season’s Western Conference finalists meet for the third

time since that series Wednesday night, with the Mavericks in

search of a fourth straight victory.

A memorable conference finals between these teams saw Dallas

(14-8) prevail in five games – all decided by single digits – as

Dirk Nowitzki averaged 32.2 points with two 40-point efforts while

Kevin Durant averaged 28.0.

The up-and-coming Thunder (16-4) were anointed one of the

favorites to win the West this season, got off to a 5-0 start

before a 100-87 loss at Dallas on Jan. 2 and have the NBA’s best

record. The Mavericks, meanwhile, began with three losses capped by

a 104-102 defeat at Oklahoma City when Durant hit a 3-pointer at

the buzzer.

Dallas has had numerous players missing but is starting to get

healthy, with Vince Carter averaging 18.0 points during this

three-game win streak after missing five with a foot injury.

Nowitzki has returned to play consecutive games – he’s scored only

10 in each – after a planned four-game hiatus to strengthen his

sore right knee and do conditioning work.

“We place a high standard on our play,” coach Rick Carlisle told

the Mavericks’ official website. “And when you get off to an

abysmal start like we did, it’s painful. But we’ve climbed out of

that and we’ve got to understand that just ’cause we’re winning and

playing well now, there’s nothing guaranteed and we’ve gotta keep

working at it.”

Point guard Jason Kidd has missed the last two games with a

right calf strain. Rodrigue Beaubois has stepped up since joining

the starting lineup three games ago, averaging 14.7 points and 7.0

assists.

Beaubois barely saw any action in the first two meetings with

the Thunder but could be called upon to slow down a surging Russell

Westbrook, averaging 25.7 points over his last seven contests.

Westbrook’s 31-point effort Monday was wasted in a 112-100 road

loss to the Clippers. Oklahoma City allowed its most points and

56.3 percent shooting – a season high for an opponent.

“This is our first bad game in 20,” coach Scott Brooks told the

Thunder’s official website. “That’s the bottom line, we had a bad

game. One of the things that this team does well that I’m proud of

is they bounce back. You play 20 games, you have one bad game, I

think any team in this league will live with that.”

Nowitzki’s two best scoring efforts this season came against the

Thunder with 55 total points – two less then Durant has in the

season series. Durant has averaged 36.5 points and 13.5 rebounds in

his last two games.

The Thunder are looking for points outside of Durant and

Westbrook, with James Harden averaging 15.5 against the Mavs.

Harden, though, was held to seven Monday in his first start since

Jan. 3 in place of an injured Thabo Sefolosha (sore right

foot).

“We have to get more guys involved,” Brooks said. “I have to do

a better job with that, but it always comes on the defensive end

for us.”

Durant’s 19.8 scoring average at Dallas in the regular season is

his worst in a West building, although he averaged 29.0 there in

three playoff games.