Preview: Dirk, Mavs try to end three-game skid in OKC
Earl K. Sneed reports from Oklahoma City and previews the Dallas Mavericks' nationally-televised matchup against the Thunder, as the Dallas team tries to bring an end to a three-game skid while working 11-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki back into the fold.
Preview: Mavericks (12-16) at Thunder (21-6)
Dirk, Mavs try to end three-game skid in OKC
Looking to rebound from a 129-91 throttling in San Antonio on Sunday in the surprise return of 11-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki from arthroscopic knee surgery on Oct. 19, the Mavericks (12-16) will now try to bring a three-game losing streak to an end. In order to do so, however, they’ll have to take down three-time scoring champion Kevin Durant, All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder in the hostile Chesapeake Energy Arena.
But after trailing by as much as 46 points in their last game while trying to reintegrate Nowitzki, the Mavs admit they’ll have to make several adjustments on the fly. That may also include increasing Nowitzki’s workload as the team prepares for a back-to-back that concludes in Dallas against the Denver Nuggets on Friday.
Still, with the 7-footer expected to continue to come off the bench after tallying eight points on 3-of-4 shooting while grabbing six rebounds in just 20 minutes of action against the Spurs, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle says it’s important to bring Nowitzki along slowly until he is complete 100 percent.
“Look, we have Dirk healthy, which is a major plus,” Carlisle said. “We’ve got to get him integrated with the other guys. His minutes situation is going to be prescribed to start with, and I don’t know exactly what it’s going to be (Thursday) and the next night, but we’re going to have to go a little bit piecemeal with it and we will. And the hope is that we can get him back up to speed to where he can play his normal minutes sooner than later.”
Now, with Nowitzki back into the fold, the team will try to elevate its play against a Thunder team that had won 12 straight before consecutive losses on the road against Minnesota last Thursday and the NBA champion Miami Heat on Christmas Day. And as his team gets set to face a fifth of seven straight playoff squads from a season ago to close the year, Nowitzki admits that the Mavs will have to raise their level of intensity if they are to battle out of their current hole.
“It’s a tough stretch right now. It’s probably as tough a stretch as you see in this league,” Nowitzki said. “I think we had an easy schedule the first month of the season, but here lately it’s been one great team after the next, so it’s been a tough stretch. I felt like for me getting out there as soon as I can now and hoping to get my rhythm sooner, it’s probably going to take me a week or two getting my legs and my wind. And hopefully I can help a little more, but we need some work.
He added: "We've got a lot of areas to improve. We might not be as talented as some teams on the top, but if we're not, you have to make it up with how you play and compete and it's just not there.”
The Mavs will try to change that when they face off with the Thunder (21-6) in front of a national audience Thursday night, looking to avenge last season’s first-round playoff series sweep. The game will air nationally at 7 p.m. CT on TNT.