OKC at Mavs Preview: The Hauntings
The Dallas Mavericks are now a game back of the Memphis Grizzlies for the seventh seed and, based on conference records, actually in ninth place, behind the Phoenix Suns for the eighth and final seed in the West playoff race. A pair of OT losses during this home stand, to Minnesota and Brooklyn, figure to haunt the Mavs as they approach these final 11 games of the year jostling for a postseason berth.
Meanwhile, OKC may be haunted by these teams' March 16 meeting in Oklahoma, when Dallas won, 109-86, snapping an 11-game skid against the Thunder.
That night, the Thunder elected to rest All-Star guard Russell Westbrook. As he makes his way back from knee surgery, Westbrook plays tonight - against a Mavs team that says its starting point, Jose Calderon, participated in Tuesday morning shootaround and able to go after absorbing an elbow to the face in the opening seconds of the Brooklyn game.
Westbrook sat out last night as the Thunder beat 117-96. More key than Westbrook, of course, is fellow OKC star Kevin Durant. KD leads the NBA in scoring and in the last six meetings averages 32.5 points against Dallas. He's scored 25-or-more points in 35 straight NBA games.
Dallas' offensive answer to Durant is Dirk Nowitzki, coming off a week during which he looked his age. The UberMan, 35, closed the first half of this eight-game home stand by making just two if his 12 shots for only 10 points in 38 minutes of action. The Mavericks are seeking offensive balance ... But that was offensive absence.
Dallas coach Rick Carlisle has praised OKC's "1-2 punch" of Durant and Westbrook but Dallas' Monta Ellis deserves mention in thus conversation due to his recent clutch play.
The Mavericks' home stand has resulted in just a 2-2 record. They've finished games poorly and now threaten to finish the season poorly, too. Tonight, against a title-contending OKC team, they need to not only be ready to start early but also must be able to close late.
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