Without their head coach and best player for most of the game, the Dallas Mavericks improved to 17-1 since November 20 with a 103-93 victory last night in Oklahoma City. Six Mavs chipped in with double-digit points, and Caron Butler led the team in scoring with 21 points and 3-for-5 shooting from three-point range.
Dirk Nowitzki scored 13 points in just more than 11 minutes of playing time, but after Thunder power forward Serge Ibaka fouled him as he nailed a fadeaway jumper less than three minutes into the second quarter, Nowitzki fell awkwardly and headed to the locker room with a sore right knee. X-rays taken at the arena didn't show any damage, but Nowitzki didn't return. An MRI is scheduled today in Dallas.
Several players picked up the slack with Nowitzki absent and assistant coach Dwane Casey at the helm because Rick Carlisle stayed in Dallas to recover from minor knee surgery. Jason Kidd finished one rebound shy of a triple double, scoring 10 points and dishing out 10 assists, and Shawn Marion had 20 points and nine rebounds. Tyson Chandler also added 10 rebounds and played aggressive defense, as Dallas outscored Oklahoma City by 18 points with him on the floor.
Former University of Texas swingman Kevin Durant kept his team in the game with 28 points, as the Thunder were tied with the Mavs 56-56 at halftime and led 81-79 after three quarters. But Dallas put the game out of reach in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Thunder 24-12. Jason Terry scored 9 of his 13 points in the fourth, and the defense held Oklahoma City to just four points in the final four minutes of the game.
The Mavs finished off the Thunder when Chandler tipped in a missed jumper by Butler to increase their lead to 99-91 with 2:21 remaining, and then Butler followed a botched 3-foot shot by Thunder small forward Jeff Green with a long two-pointer to pull ahead by 10.
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Had Dallas found a way to let this one slip through its fingers, there would have been plenty of good excuses. After five days of rest, players could have blamed it on rust. Without Carlisle, they could have claimed they were out of sync. When Nowitzki left, they could have argued it deflated them. Having won 10 of their first 11 already on the road, they could have said they were bound for a road loss sooner or later.
But none of that happened. Instead of making excuses, the Mavs dug in and focused on winning despite the circumstances. Heck, even Alexis Ajinca, who was only activated for the game because Brian Cardinal had stomach problems, contributed with a three-pointer from the corner as the third quarter wrapped up.
Aside from adding Chandler, there isn't a lot that appears different between this year's Mavs and last year's club. Changes in attitude and mindset set this team apart, and as long as they continue to believe they can beat any club no matter what adversity they face, there's no reason to believe they won't.
Dallas is now an NBA best 11-1 on the road, including two wins in Oklahoma City, with the only loss by two points on November 17 against the New Orleans Hornets. The Mavs are back home and face the 10-20 Toronto Raptors tonight at 7:30 before Thursday's anticipated match-up against the San Antonio Spurs.