By Randy Renner
The Thunder may catch another break playing the Dallas Mavericks tonight. 13-time All-Star forward Dirk Nowitzki will be a game-time decision because of swelling in his right knee.
When the Thunder (32-12) hosted Dallas (25-19) last week Nowitzki and the rest of the Mavs starters were held out after having played an overtime game the night before. Oklahoma City, also playing the second game of a back-to-back but choosing to go with the regular lineup, took full advantage in rolling to a 108-89 win.
The rest of the Dallas starters are expected to play and Nowitzki participated in some of the Mavs shoot-around today but coach Rick Carlisle said “My assumption is he’s not going to play if there’s still swelling in the knee so we’ll see where he is tonight.”
The Thunder come into tonight’s contest riding a six-game winning streak and a 21-4 record since December 6th. It will be the first game superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have played since being voted in as starters in next month’s NBA All-Star Game. Oklahoma City is the only team in the league with teammates elected to starting roles.
Westbrook will be the focus of early attention tonight as he tries to make extra sure he’s able to stay in the game. In the second quarter of last week’s meeting Westbrook was automatically ejected after picking up his second technical foul as the result of a dustup with Mavs backup point guard and first team pest J.J. Barea.
That night Westbrook played just 15 minutes and didn’t score a point for just the second time in his career. He still impacted the game with eight assists and seven rebounds. Since that game he’s only scored more than 16 points once, in a win at Denver, but he’s been in double figures in assists in every game since.
With his assists up during the Thunder’s six-game winning streak, his field-goal attempts have dropped to 13.3 per game after he previously averaged 19.2. The Thunder are 12-1 when he has fewer than 18.
Westbrook made just five of his 14 shots but had 15 assists, eight rebounds and five steals in Wednesday's 109-95 victory over Charlotte.
"He's playing a video game," said Durant, who had 26 points. "Trying to get all the assists early and trying to get everybody involved early, and it's helping us out."
Durant has reached 20 points in 29 straight games, including 29 last week against the Mavericks. The now 7-time All-Star has averaged 42.0 points in his last three games in Dallas.
KD missed both visits last season with his broken foot and he missed OKC’s 117-114 win over the Mavericks on November 22nd with a sprained big toe. That night Westbrook had 31 points and 11 assists.
If Westbrook can stay on the floor tonight he might even play more minutes than usual because it seems like that’s what happens when these teams play in Dallas and what’s been happening on an all too regular basis when the Mavs play anyone at home.
Of the last six meetings between the Thunder and Mavericks in Dallas, five were decided by six points or fewer and the other went to overtime.
That's a period Mavericks fans are used to.
If this one goes past regulation, Dallas would set an NBA record with a fifth consecutive overtime game at home. The Mavericks are the only team to play four straight, having also done so in 1985.
Tonight’s game tips off at 7:40 inside American Airlines Center in Dallas and you can see it on Fox Sports Oklahoma.