Mavericks-Thunder Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated December 26, 2012
Failing to measure up in their much-anticipated NBA Finals rematch, the Oklahoma City Thunder have gone back to the drawing board. The Dallas Mavericks are also looking to refocus now that their star forward has returned to the lineup. The Thunder will try to stop their first losing streak of the season and win their 11th straight at home on Thursday night when they take on the Mavericks. After winning 12 consecutive games - the franchise's longest streak since 1995-96 - Oklahoma City (21-6) dropped consecutive road contests against Minnesota on Dec. 20 and Miami on Tuesday. The Thunder suffered their first defeat in five games following a loss and haven't lost three in a row since April 2-6. While Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combined to score 54 points - more than any set of teammates had against the Heat - both missed potential game-tying 3-pointers in Miami. "Unfortunately we didn't come away with the win but we did a lot of good things that we can take away to the next game," coach Scott Brooks told the team's official website. The Thunder fell to 11-3 when both stars score 20 or more points, but they could certainly use some help. Durant and Westbrook have scored 117 points in the team's last two losses, while the rest of the team has totaled just 73. After averaging 108.6 points while shooting 49.1 percent from the floor during its 12-game run, Oklahoma City has slowed to 95.0 and 41.2 percent, respectively, the past two contests. The Thunder should have a decent chance to get back on track against a Dallas team that ranks near the bottom of the NBA in scoring defense (103.8 per game) in December. The return of former MVP Dirk Nowitzki wasn't enough to prevent the Mavericks (12-16) from losing for the sixth time in seven games, as they fell 129-91 at San Antonio on Sunday. Dallas trailed by as many as 46 before losing its ninth game by 15 points or more. "We got a (butt-kicking), that's it,'' forward Shawn Marion said. "No need to explain it ... it was an old-fashioned (butt-kicking).'' The blowout loss spoiled the long-awaited return of Nowitzki, the team's leading scorer every season since 1999-00. He scored eight points in 20 minutes off the bench after missing the first 27 games following knee surgery in October. "We need to keep on working,'' Nowitzki said. "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.'' While it's likely to take Nowitzki some time to get back into form, the Mavericks could use his prolific scoring with O.J. Mayo battling illness and a minor slump. Mayo, who missed the team's workouts earlier in the week because of a fever, is expected to play after returning to practice on Wednesday. The team scoring leader (19.3) will try to bounce back after averaging 8.3 points on 9 of 33 from the field in his last three games. Dallas has totaled just 89.3 points on 41.5 percent shooting during its three-game skid, but might be catching the Thunder at the right time. Oklahoma City has given up 101.0 points on 45.7 percent in its back-to-back losses. The Thunder have won six straight against the Mavericks, including a sweep in the first round of the 2011-12 playoffs.
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