Sitting in fifth place in the Western Conference, the Dallas Mavericks are hoping Amar’e Stoudemire can help push them over the top down the stretch.
While the Oklahoma City Thunder find themselves just outside the playoff picture, they have all the pieces in place to make a run if they can stay on the court.
The Mavericks, though, are delaying Stoudemire’s debut, so he won’t play Thursday night against the Thunder as these heavyweights open the season’s second half at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Dallas (36-19) made a big splash by acquiring All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo from Boston back in December, and it appears to have gotten even stronger with Stoudemire now on board. The six-time All-Star signed for the prorated veteran minimum of roughly $460,000 on Wednesday, two days after agreeing to a buyout with NBA-worst New York.
"To play alongside Dirk Nowitzki, Tyson Chandler and other great players, I think it’s a tremendous opportunity for me to compete for a championship," he said.
Coach Rick Carlisle, though, said earlier Thursday that he wanted to give the 32-year-old more time to get acclimated, so Stoudemire will not play this game or Friday in Houston. Carlisle said he would likely debut Sunday against Charlotte.
Stoudemire is averaging 20.0 points for his career, but he’s managed just 11.9 per game over the last two seasons.
"He’s an All-Star, maybe a future Hall of Famer, and he’s been in the game for a long time," Rondo said. "So it won’t take him a long time to adjust. I’m not worried about Amar’e."
Rondo is expected to return after missing six games with a broken bone near his left eye, but Chandler is uncertain to be available due to an ankle issue suffered last Monday.
"I think the break came at the right time," said Nowitzki, whose team entered All-Star weekend having won six of eight. "We were banged up a little bit. Hopefully everyone feels well (Thursday) and is rested."
The Mavs aren’t likely to get much sympathy from the Thunder (28-25), who were forced to get by without Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook for significant chunks during the first half. However, Oklahoma City has won three straight and five of six and appears poised for a very strong last two months.
"We want to look at the things we’ve done well the last week or so and just try to recreate that and kind of take control of our season ourselves," forward Nick Collison said. "It helps to get guys back healthy. Obviously, hopefully, we keep that going. But the big thing for us is every single night, we’ve got to realize that we control how we play, and we are in control of our season."
The Thunder return from the break one-half game behind Phoenix for the West’s eighth and final playoff berth.
"The thing I love about our team – there’s no excuses," coach Scott Brooks said. "There’s plenty of games left. We don’t know how it’s going to end, but I do know – I’m positive about this – that our group is going to continue to play hard and for each other."
It was an memorable weekend for Westbrook, who scored 41 points – one shy of Wilt Chamberlain’s 53-year-old record – and was named MVP of Sunday’s All-Star Game after leading the West to a 163-158 victory. Durant finished with three points in limited minutes due to routine soreness in his right foot, but he’s ready to get back to business.
"Being away for a few days, everybody recharged their batteries," he told the team’s official website. "It feels good to get back together and try to make this second-half push."
The Thunder dropped this season’s first meeting 112-107 at Dallas on Dec. 28 as Nowitzki matched a season high with 30 points. Oklahoma City, which was without Durant that night, is looking to avoid a fourth consecutive loss in the series after winning the previous seven matchups.
Durant is averaging 31.7 points on 65.3 percent shooting in his last three games and 34.0 in the last seven against the Mavericks.