W2W4: Dirk Nowitzki says Mavs need fast start

OKLAHOMA CITY -- How big is this final matchup between last season's Western Conference finals participants?

"Important game in an important stretch. They're the best team in the West," Nowitzki said after Monday's morning shootaround. "They've got the young, fresh legs and they've been playing well. [Kevin] Durant and [Russell] Westbrook [are] really taking their game to another level and you know [James] Harden is great off the bench. So they have a great team, everybody knows their role and we've got to be ready for a dogfight from the beginning."

Dallas enters Game No. 5 of this nine-in-12 stretch and Nowitzki emphasized that getting off to an active start tonight is crucial.

"When we get in trouble lately is slow first quarters, we get behind and then it sets a bad tone for us, sets a good tone for them," Nowitzki said. "But if we start playing well in the first quarter like we did the other night we have more energy and it lets the other team know they're in for a long night."

The Mavs usually are when they don't get off to fast starts. They're 1-10 when trailing at halftime.

"We’re not good enough to coast, we’re not good enough to just be out there and think we can just turn a switch," Nowitzki said. "We’re not good enough for that. We’ve got to play hard and everybody coming off the bench has to play their minutes hard, even if it might just be two or three minutes, give us a lift, give us a boost and sit back down and you know you gave it your all and helped the team."

Records: Mavs (22-16); Thunder (29-8)

When: 7 p.m.

Where: Chesapeake Arena


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

What to watch: Although the Thunder lead the season series 2-1, the Mavs are a missed Kevin Durant 3-point buzzer-beater in December from holding the edge. Even the Feb. 1 Thunder win at Dallas, when the Mavs played without Jason Kidd, Brendan Haywood and Lamar Odom, it wasn't easy for OKC to put the game away late. If this one comes down to crunch time, can the Mavs' veteran poise again put down the unbridled athleticism of the Thunder?

Key matchup: Russell Westbrook vs. Shawn Marion

With Delonte West out of the lineup, Marion's life has become much more difficult. He's become the guy that has to check the opposing team's point guard, and if you just started following the league, there's a lot of good ones. It would certainly make sense to see Marion start tonight's game guarding Westbrook, a 23-year-old, ultra-quick scoring machine who is averaging 28.1 points on 46.7 percent shooting.

Injuries: Mavs - G Delonte West (fractured right ring finger) is out, C Brandan Wright (concussion) is out. Thunder - G Eric Maynor (right knee) is out; G Thabo Sefolosha (sore right foot) is doubtful.

Up next: New York Knicks at Mavs, 7:30 p.m., Tuesday