Mavs Downed By OKC - And By BBall Gods

OKLAHOMA CITY – They were the two best teams in the West last year, but they each have their burdens. What do the Mavs, 104-102 at-the-buzzer losers in OKC on Thursday, have holding them back? ‘The basketball gods are not on our side,' says Carlisle of his 0-3 team. And what does the Thunder have holding them back? Well, pretty much Russell Westbrook.

The Thunder does not have a "Durant-vs.-Westbrook problem.'' What they have is a "Westbrook problem.'' It is one that is exacerbated by his erratic decision-making. It is one that is buoyed back to sea level by his brilliant athleticism. And it is one that is rescued by the support given him by the team's superstar, Durant, who drained a 30-foot buzzer-beater to give hand the Mavs a dramatically crushing 104-102 defeat.
"It was crazy, a crazy course of events," said Durant of the win that moves OKC to 4-0. "As a kid, you dream about hitting about hitting a game-winning shot in the NBA. It was a dream come true.''

Durant's dramatic shot followed a similar success by Vince Carter of Dallas, who made a 3-pointer with 1.4 seconds remaining that the defending champs assumed might give them their first win of the season. But for those eyeballing this nationally-televised game to witness a continuation of Wednesday's Westbrook-Durant sideline confrontation from Wednesday .. well, the bromance lives.

With 3:20 left in the game, the Thunder forced a turnover and Westbrook out-sprinted the field toward a dunk. Somehow, the Mavs' Jason Terry gave just enough chase to foul Westbrook on the slam, sending the Thunder point guard catapulting into the third-row of the Chesapeake Energy Arena seats.

And I watched for who would be the teammate to rush into the audience to pull Westbrook to his feet.

It was Kevin Durant.

And when Westbrook was at the line, about to complete the three-point play, I watched to see which teammate was waving his arms in leading Thunder fans to chant "West-Brook! West-Brook!''?

It was Kevin Durant.

This is pretty much the highest compliment can give: Kevin Durant's skill, will and class hold that franchise together in precisely the same way The UberMan holds together his.

In a win over the Grizzlies on Wednesday, Westbrook shot 0-of-13 from the floor following an early-game altercation with Durant. There is a history in OKC of the gifted Westbrook losing his cool and the calm Durant having to ice down his teammate's emotions.

"It wasn't nothing that people should be blowing out of proportion," Durant said of the conflict, wisely addressing it while also downplaying it. "It happens every single day. Teams go through emotions, things happen. It's a competitive sport. Everybody's not going to always come in and be happy every single day."
And then there is the Westbrook take, dripping with his typically juvenile smart-assedness: "What happened? I don't know what you're talking about."

Against Dallas, Westbrook was clearly carrying some baggage from the previous day; anger, embarrassment, a feeling that he is unfairly cast as a second banana, something. (I lean toward the last one, and truly believe that if OKC ever collapses it'll be because Westbrook's addled brain tells him he should be in charge of his own team.) And for much of the game, the baggage weighed him down. In a game that included an absurd seven turnovers from him, Westbrook was both tentative and sloppy – at least until that three-point-play dunk in the final few minutes, part of his 16-point total.

This rematch of last season's Western Conference Finals included more than a few scuffles as Dallas newcomers Delonte West and Carter worked to inject some ‘tude into a team that is now 0-3 (and is just the second defending champ, joining the '69 Celtics, to start a season that poorly). It also included a five-point OKC lead with 46 seconds remaining that Dallas almost totally flipped but didn't in part because of another outburst of attitude.

Mavs MVP Dirk Nowitzki had 29 points and 10 rebounds but committed a killer error when his protest of a foul call earned him a technical foul, giving the Thunder a free and critical point.

Nowitzki recorded the assist on Carter's go-ahead 3, and Dallas coach Rick Carlisle praised Carter for his play in this early season.

"We've got to get some other guys to step up who aren't getting it done,'' Carlisle said. "The breaks are going against us. … The basketball gods are not on our side right now. The way to get them on our side is doing all the right things all the time.''

Jason Terry had 16 points and nine assists. The Mavs used a trio of centers and all were effective. ("The way they played,'' Jet exaggerated, "we'll forget about Tyson real soon.'') The feisty West scored 15 (and yes, he might really make you forget JJB). I didn't see a Marion problem. Really, Nowitzki had a great deal of support in this very winnable game with the exception of Lamar Odom, who wasn't in the contest for the critical points of the final quarter.

The Mavs' top acquisition in trade from the Lakers -- in a sense Dallas' replacement for impactful center Chandler – has for three games now been an offensive dead weight. He's 4-of-27.

Dallas, reloading so much of its roster following free agency, believes it will eventually gel and return to contention, where it's been for 11 straight years.

"This league is cruel,'' Nowitzki said. "A loss is a loss, and now we're 0-3. (But) I think we're going to be a good team that's tough to beat."

For now, however, changing-of-the-guard themes are appropriate. Durant found a classy way to address the night.

"When two tough teams go at it,'' he said, "it always comes down to the last play.''
And when Durant and Westbrook go at it? If the Thunder is able to overtake Dallas as the best team in the West, it will not be because they overcome a "Durant-vs.-Westbrook problem.''

It'll be because Westbrook and the rest of his teammates find Durant picking them up, cheering them on, and draining "dream-come-true'' shots in the clutch.

The Mavs' problems are less easily solved. They will require divine intervention from Carlisle's basketball gods.

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