W2W4: Out of nowhere, a marquee matchup

NEW YORK -- Who could have figured two weeks ago that Sunday's game would make for can't-miss television?

The Dallas Mavericks were mired in a three-game losing skid. The New York Knicks were headed for certain implosion as the super-hyped club was spiraling the drain.

Then Jason Terry challenged his team, one that still hasn't seen its best players perform collectively at their best, by saying they would ultimately look back at the next nine games heading into the All-Star break as a defining stretch.

So far they're 6-0 and doing it with defense.

The Knicks unleashed a kid named Jeremy Lin and Linsanity was born, bringing the Knicks all the way back to .500 before dropping their first game since Feb. 3.

"It’s tough, but obviously before the season we talked about it and I think we’ve got the depth in a tough season with a lot of games," said Dirk Nowitzki, who has returned to his All-Star form over the last two weeks. "We kind of take everybody’s best hit and we still play well and, obviously, we had some personal tragedies in the last couple days, so hopefully we can get some of our guys back. We have a deep bench. We have one of the deepest benches in the league, and we feel like on nights when our starters don’t have it, those guys can really bring it for us, and they did a lot of those nights already."

Dallas is expected to get an important one back for Sunday's game. Terry has missed the last two games, snapping a streak of 126 consecutive games played, giving the Mavs back their top scorer off the bench.

Records: Mavs (20-11); Knicks (15-16)

When: Noon

Where: Madison Square Garden


Radio: ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM; 1270 AM (Spanish)

What to watch: Mavs point guard Jason Kidd has been showing his younger counterparts lately that he's still got game with his 39th birthday just a little more than a month away -- that means he was dropping dimes at Madison Square Garden when young Jeremy Lin was still in grade school in Palo Alto. Since returning form a right calf strain, his second injury this season, Kidd is averaging 7.6 points and 6.6 assists while going 10-of-23 from the 3-point line. But of course, statistics barely scratch the surface of what Kidd brings to the Mavs and what he brings has been of far greater quality since his return.

Key matchup: Dirk Nowitzki vs. Amare Stoudemire: Will Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni use Stoudemire to defend Nowitzki or will he call on center and former Nowitzki teammate Tyson Chandler to do the job? Chandler has the better mobility, but either way this is a nightmare matchup for New York. In his last eight games, Nowitzki is averaging 24.0 points. His accuracy has tailed over the last four games, but he's been magnificent in the clutch and he did go 8-of-11 in the second half of Friday's win at Philadelphia. Stoudemire has been back in the lineup for three games and has averaged 19.3 points and 8.7 rebounds.

Injuries: Mavs - G Delonte West (fractured right ring finger) is out; G Rodrigue Beaubois (personal reasons) is out. Knicks - F Carmelo Anthony (strained groin) is questionable; G Baron Davis (herniated disc) is out; C Josh Harrellson (fractured right wrist) is out.

Up next: Boston Celtics at Mavs, 7 p.m., Monday.