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Dallas Mavericks show signs of improvement after slow start

From NBA media reports

* Recap: Mavericks 97, Thunder 81

The hand-wringing late Saturday and early Sunday was best left to the Oklahoma City Thunder and their fans, fretting by now over that team’s 8-11 start to 2017-18. For the Dallas Mavericks and the folks faithful to them, it was more about head-scratching.

In cruising past OKC Saturday, the Mavs won for the third time in four games, after winning just twice in 16 games over the season’s first four weeks. The Dallas players see their recent improvement as a glimmer of hope in a season that began so glumly, as ESPN’s Tim MacMahon reports:

For better or worse, the Mavs have experience in this sort of situation. They stumbled out of the gate to a 4-17 start last season and managed to give themselves a slim chance of sneaking into the playoffs until being eliminated in April.

“That’s what gave us the hope that if we continue to fight, we can turn this thing around,” said Harrison Barnes, who had 12 points and 12 rebounds Saturday, a couple of nights after hitting a buzzer-beater to sink the Memphis Grizzlies. “But if we gave in and threw in the towel, this can get really ugly. It’s just a commendable job of everyone in this locker room of just continuing to fight.”

“We’ve put ourselves in such a hole that we don’t really have the luxury to think of big picture,” said [Wesley] Matthews, who had 12 points in the win over the Thunder and was a major factor in Paul George’s poor night (2 points, 1-of-12 shooting). “Our big picture is the next day.”

Added Smith, who celebrated his 20th birthday by scoring 15 points in a win over Russell Westbrook: “Nobody likes to lose. We’ve got a team full of winners. Regardless of what our record says, we’ve got a team full of winners.”

The biggest winner of all the Mavs, of course, is Dirk Nowitzki. He’ll never again return to 2011 NBA Finals MVP form, but the 20-year veteran has played a significant role in the Mavs’ sudden turnaround.

Nowitzki is a team-best plus-59 over the past four games, averaging 13.0 points and 8.0 rebounds in that span, shooting 52.4 percent from the field and 47.1 percent from 3-point range. He was plus-26 in only 22 minutes against the Thunder, scoring a season-high 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting.

“My legs feel stronger. My stamina is better,” the 39-year-old Nowitzki said. “It just took me a while to get going into the season. Eleven games in 18 days didn’t help against a lot of great, great opponents, but I feel better now and I’m going to keep working.”

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