DALLAS — After winning six of their previous eight matchups heading into Sunday, the Dallas Mavericks stared a different kind of challenge in the eyes as they prepared to face off against the reigning Western Conference champion Oklahoma City Thunder.
Pushing the Thunder to the brink of defeat in two overtime games earlier in the year, the Mavericks found themselves falling to 0-3 this season against their neighbors from up north on Interstate 35 following a 112-91 road loss on Feb. 4. The Mavs then faced the daunting task of tackling the likes of three-time scoring champion Kevin Durant and All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook without their top perimeter defender for the sixth straight game as forward Shawn Marion continued to sit due to a strained left calf.
And without the defensive specialist and four-time All-Star, the Mavericks (31-35) couldn't avoid the season series sweep at the hands of the Thunder (50-17) while beginning a back-to-back that concludes Monday in Atlanta on a sour note following a 107-101 defeat.
“You know, they made more plays than we did,” leading scorer O.J. Mayo said of the loss. “Whether they be luck shots, whatever you want to call it, they just made plays.”
Beginning the night with his 21st different starting lineup, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle immediately looked for a physical presence inside, replacing center Chris Kaman with veteran big man Elton Brand in the first unit.
“It’s game by game and I’m fine with that. I just want to pull out some wins,” Brand said when asked how he sees the center position shaping up the remainder of the season.
But it would be 11-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki and 37-year-old point guard Mike James that would provide the early scoring for the Mavericks while jumping out to a 13-8 edge midway through the opening quarter. Nowitzki then moved ahead of point guard Jason Kidd (954) for second place on the franchise’s all-steals list, before sixth man Vince Carter’s and-one score over ex-Mav Derek Fisher in the lane helped lift Dallas to a 26-24 edge after the first 12 minutes of play.
After missing the loss in February due to an illness, Carter continued to stay on the attack while connecting on a 3-pointer to start the second stanza. Meanwhile, with fourth-year guard Rodrigue Beaubois in the locker room due to an apparent injured left index finger just a game after leading the Mavs with 18 points in Friday’s 96-86 win over Cleveland, Mayo would do his best to keep the Thunder at bay.
But the Thunder would seize a 37-36 edge on Kevin Martin’s 3-pointer from the wing, forcing a timeout by Carlisle with 6:46 left in the half. The Thunder then proceeded to go on an 11-2 run to go ahead by five. The Mavs immediately answered with a 7-0 run of their own to go back in front on another triple by Carter while backup lead guard Darren Collison sped up the tempo.
Still, with Westbrook and Durant combining to score 28 points through the first 24 minutes of play, the Thunder went into the locker room with a 50-49 edge.
Once it was determined at the half that Beaubois would be out indefinitely due to a left second metacarpal fracture, the Mavericks returned to the hardwood looking for a spark from someone else.
“I feel bad for the kid,” Nowitzki would later say of Beaubois’ injury. “It’s just sad. It’s just so many injuries. I mean, he’s been here four years and he missed a lot of action. He broke his foot twice, dislocated numerous fingers, he had to battle through that and then finally breaks his hand. It’s tough. We feel bad for him, but he’s a good kid and he’ll stick around.”
The Mavs would get that spark from Nowitzki, who continued to find nothing but the bottom of the net after a 5-for-5 first half, draining back-to-back 3-pointers before another jumper to put the home team in front.
Nowitzki’s first miss of the night then came on his ninth attempt while the physicality level of the game began to pick up. The Mavs then had to battle a fourth foul of the night on Carter, forced to sit while Westbrook continued his assault on the Dallas defense to lift the Thunder into the fourth up 73-72.
An off-balanced 3 by Reggie Jackson out of the corner would give Oklahoma City the momentum to open the final 12 minutes of play. The Mavericks wouldn’t fade away, however, regaining a 79-78 edge with 9:42 remaining after Carter’s 3-pointer was followed by Collison’s driving score.
Durant then reemerged in the game with his first points of the second half, connecting on a jumper before driving for a three-point play to put the Thunder ahead 83-79 with 8:55 remaining.
“Obviously, we would have loved to have ‘Trix. He’s our best perimeter defender and we feel like he always guards him well,” Nowitzki said as Marion’s absence was felt most down the stretch trying to slow down Durant. “But I thought Jae [Crowder] did a decent job early, the same with Vince, but when he made that first shot in the fourth quarter the basket was big for him.”
“You know, he’s a great player,” Brand said with high regard for Durant. “He’s top two or three in the league in scoring, and once he sees the ball go in, he can get hot and that’s what he did. He hit some big shots and then Westbrook was in that paint, making shots and finishing all game long.”
Durant would proceed to do his best to take over, while the Mavs countered with back-to-back 3-pointers by James to stay within an arm’s reach. But the rookie Crowder’s turnover would lead to an alley-oop connection from Westbrook to Serge Ibaka at the other end, forcing a timeout by Carlisle with the Mavs trailing 94-91 and 5:17 remaining on the game clock.
That lead would double after Durant’s 3 from the top of the key, continuing to carry the Thunder’s offensive load down the stretch. Carter tried to keep the Mavs afloat until Nowitzki’s consecutive 2-for-2 trips to the free-throw line tied the game at 101-all with 1:20 left. That’s when Westbrook would answer yet again, hanging in the lane for a runner at the 1:00 mark before the Mavs’ offense sputtered to a shot-clock violation with 35.4 seconds left.
“They were doing a lot of switching,” Carlisle said of the Thunder’s defense late. “We got up against the clock and didn’t do a good job. It was a tough possession.
“We didn’t do a good job,” he added after the ball failed to make it into Nowitzki’s hands repeatedly down the stretch. “I take responsibility for it. A few times they fouled him before he could get a shot off. He got to the free-throw line two or three times. When they get into all of that switching and denying, sometimes other guys have got to step up and make plays, and we weren’t able to make plays.”
Thabo Sefolosha’s fadeaway score then made it a four-point game with 12.5 ticks left. Carter’s miss on a drive to the basket would then bury the Mavs’ chances before Durant’s free throws added the final padding in the last 2.2 seconds.
“Very frustrating,” Mayo said. “It came down to one stop. Sefolosha hit a tough fadeaway, Westbrook had gotten going, Durant obviously had gotten going in the fourth quarter, and this was a game that we needed and we needed to close out.”
Finishing the night 8 of 10 while not attempting a field goal in the fourth quarter, Nowitzki led five Mavericks in double figures with 23 points to go with seven rebounds.
“Well, they didn’t leave me anymore,” Nowitzki said after the Thunder defense hounded the 7-footer to keep him from attempting a shot in the final period. “Obviously, in transition, they ran right to me. And even when we had some stuff happening on the strong side, they were just hugging me on the weak side and basically saying, ‘We don’t even want him to catch the ball.’ That’s an adjustment a lot of teams make, but I still think we were right there. I don’t think that’s why we lost the game. We were scoring enough there in the fourth, we just couldn’t get any stops anymore. Really, that’s what hurt us.”
“It’s tough. Dirty, he’s 8 for 10. He was hot. When he’s that hot, we have to try to find a way,” Brand added. “You know, they’re taking the ball of course out of his hands and trying to make sure he doesn’t get it, but somehow we need to make some plays. If they’re going to do that then we need to make some plays.”
Carter added 18 points off the bench, while James pitched in a season-high 14 points, Collison recorded 12 points and Crowder registered 11 points.
Westbrook led the Thunder with 35 points on 13-of-23 shooting while Durant erupted to score 19 of his 31 points in the fourth quarter, hitting 10 of 19 from the field to conclude the game. Ibaka, meanwhile, recorded a double-double with 18 points and 16 rebounds.
The Thunder finished the night outshooting the Mavs as well, 48.8 percent to 45.8 percent, to go along with a 46-34 rebounding advantage, overcoming Dallas' 9-of-21 shooting from 3-point range and a 44-38 edge in points in the paint. Both teams also finished with 16 turnovers while the Mavs collected a season-high 13 steals.
Note: The Mavs will now head out on the road for the second game of a back-to-back, touching down in Atlanta for a second showdown of the season against the Hawks. The Hawks lead the season series 1-0 after a 105-101 win in Dallas on Feb. 11. The game will air locally at 6:30 p.m. CT on Fox Sports Southwest.
“We’ve got to continue playing hard, finding ways to stay positive obviously and go out there to win every game that we play,” Mayo said while shifting his attention to the Hawks.
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DALLAS — After falling to the reigning Western Conference champion Oklahoma City Thunder in each of the first three meetings between the two teams this season, the Dallas Mavericks will try to exact a bit of revenge Sunday as the two squads collide for a fourth time at the American Airlines Center.
Entering Sunday night’s matchup, the Mavericks (31-34) have won six of their last eight games overall, bouncing back from Thursday’s heartbreaking 92-91 defeat in San Antonio to claim a 96-86 victory at home over Cleveland on the second night of a back-to-back. But, in order to finally quiet the Thunder (49-17), the Mavs may have to find a way to elevate their collective play minus four-time All-Star Shawn Marion, who is expected to miss his sixth straight outing after a MRI revealed what was originally believed to be a contusion is in actuality a strained left calf.
Now, the Mavericks will try to slow down the Thunder’s high-octane offensive attack led by three-time scoring champion Kevin Durant and All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook, likely without Marion in the lineup.
"They're tough. You know, they're one of the best teams in the league. We all know that," 11-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki said after examining the team with the third-best record in the NBA. "We obviously wish we'd have 'Trix [Marion], who's our best perimeter defender, but it looks like he's going to be out for a minute."
Allowing Durant to explode for a career-high 52 points when the Thunder claimed a 117-114 win in Dallas on Jan. 18, the Mavs held the lethal offensive assassin to just 19 points and 10 rebounds while Westbrook led four Thunder players in double figures with 24 points on 8 of 16 from the field as the Dallas team fell to a 112-91 road loss on Feb. 4. Still, Durant is averaging 37.0 points in three games between the squads this season while also connecting on 36 of 37 attempts from the free-throw line.
And maybe without their defender catalyst, the Mavs will try to contain Durant in hopes of seizing a much-needed win on their home floor.
Meanwhile, the Mavs will try to correct the mistakes of their previous three losses at the hands of the Thunder, in particular what went wrong during the thumping in Oklahoma City back in February when Marion led the visiting Dallas team with 23 points.
Falling by a combined nine points in the first two showdowns, the Mavericks were dominated from the opening tipoff when the two squads squared off last month. And after failing to seize a victory in each of those three matchups, Carlisle admits that his team will have to make plenty of corrections in order to claim a victory on its home floor before completing a back-to-back in Atlanta on Monday.
“A little of everything,” Carlisle said when asked what the Mavs will have to correct in order to avoid the season series sweep.
He added: “We had two close ones and then one bad one. The last one was bad. You know, it’s a top team. Rebounding is going to be another big theme, how we can deal with Westbrook and Durant is always a key to the game, and we’re going to have to do it as a team. We don’t have their kind of athletes that can just come down and jump over you. That’s just not who we are. We’ve got to play a very much team-oriented game. We’ve got to do things together on offense and defense.”
Note: The Mavs will return to action Sunday against the reigning Western Conference champion Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder leads the season series 3-0. The game will air locally at 6:30 p.m. CT on Fox Sports Southwest. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by calling (214) 747-MAVS (6287) or by visiting Mavs.com.
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