Mavericks-Thunder Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated February 03, 2013
Kevin Durant said his back is fine after he appeared to injure it in the Oklahoma City Thunder's last game. Dirk Nowitzki looks set to return after missing the last two contests for the Dallas Mavericks. Durant has been simply brilliant in two overtime victories over the Mavericks this season, and both superstars should be eager to meet in Monday night's matchup in Oklahoma City. Oklahoma City (35-12) fell 115-110 at Cleveland on Saturday. Durant appeared to injure his lower back in the third quarter while hustling back on defense and left briefly, saying afterward he was fine. Nowitzki, meanwhile, has endured an injury-plagued season in missing 27 games at the start after knee surgery. He returned to practice Sunday after missing the last two contests with a right adductor strain. The German superstar has shown his rust in averaging 13.5 points on 26.7 percent shooting in two losses to Oklahoma City this season. That hasn't been the case at all for Durant, who has averaged 46.0 points in the two wins, including a career-best 52 the last time these teams met in a 117-114 victory at Dallas (20-27) on Jan. 18. Durant presents a tough matchup for a Dallas team allowing opponents to average 26.1 free throws for the Western Conference's worst mark. Durant is 31 for 31 at the line against the Mavs this season. Russell Westbrook is averaging 23.5 points and 8.0 assists in the two victories for the Thunder, who have won eight straight in this series including last year's first-round sweep in the playoffs. The Mavs will also have to worry about Serge Ibaka, who is averaging 15.5 rebounds against them to help the Thunder to a edge of 17 boards over the two games. New Dallas point guard Darren Collison, a former UCLA teammate of Westbrook, is averaging a team-high 23.5 points in the season series. Collison says it has been a learning experience in his first season playing for coach Rick Carlisle. "Just because he's being hard on us or easy on us in a difficult way you can't take it too seriously," Collison said. "He's trying to make us better and help us become the players we need to be in this league and it's been good for me. I think we've had steady improvement." The season series has been proof of how these teams differing fortunes in the clutch. The Thunder are 4-1 in overtime while the Mavs are 1-8. Dallas will seek to salvage a split of a four-game trip after winning 109-99 over Phoenix on Friday. The backcourt of Collison and O.J. Mayo combined for 39 points as the Mavs used a 35-point fourth quarter to pull away. The Thunder are happy to start a three-game homestand after playing 12 of their last 15 on the road. They have a bitter taste of the contest that ended that stretch as they blew a double-digit lead against the Cavaliers. "We were up 12," Durant said. "We can't just come in and play nonchalant basketball. (When) we are up 12, we have to put them away." Oklahoma City has won 13 straight at home against West foes.
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