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Mavs wary of OKC, and slow starts

ATLANTA -- Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle believes he did the right thing sitting Jason Kidd in the final two games of the season. That the Mavs scored 29 points combined in the first quarter of those two games and trailed by a cumulative 30 points to the Bulls on Saturday and the Hawks on Thursday didn't change his mind.

It didn't please him either.

"I thought the first quarter was horrible," Carlisle said following the 106-89 defeat to the Hawks that, unlike the Chicago loss, was never close. "Our energy was poor. They made shots. We didn't respond well and we gave up close to 70 percent field-goal shooting, which is going to get you in a hole every time."

Dig a hole like that against the Oklahoma City Thunder and there might be no return. Of course, Kidd will be in the lineup Saturday when the Mavs and Thunder -- so familiar after meeting in the West finals last year and now six times in 68 games (two preseason and four regular season) -- begin their first-round series north of the Red River inside one of the loudest arenas in the league.

Kidd should be refreshed and ready to roll. He hasn't played since logging 22 minutes on April 20. He sat helplessly on the bench Thursday as the Hawks put on a shooting clinic, while the Mavs had 13 points with 90 seconds to go in the first quarter.

"Now the dress rehearsal is over and now this is for us to protect our crown, what we did last year, see if we can get another one," Kidd said. "They're a talented team. They're young, they're exciting, they can get out and run. We have (to be strong) on the defensive end because they can the score the ball. We've got our hands full."

The Mavs won last season's series in a nip-and-tuck five games, using their experience and savvy in crunch time to twice win on the road and pull out close ones at home. That formula might have to fall the Mavs' way again if the league's oldest team, and one of the least athletic, is going to subdue perhaps the most athletic squad going.

"They're a great young team. We're a veteran team," Carlisle said. "We know the kind of capabilities that they have as a team, and we know what we have to do to play at our level. It's a great matchup. There's geographic interest because the two teams are close together and we had a really intense series with them last year. It's a tough matchup, but we're looking forward to it."

Kevin Durant captured his third consecutive scoring title, the first player to do so since Michael Jordan. Russell Westbrook had a phenomenal season, averaging more than 23 points a game, and James Harden, who has been cleared to play in Game 1 after sustaining a concussion last Sunday, is the leading candidate to win the Sixth Man of the Year Award. Forward Serge Ibaka is a shot-swatting machine, easily leading the league in the category while collecting 10 of his 241 blocks in one game against the Mavs.

The Thunder point to three wins this season over the Mavs involving successful late-game execution. Dallas, so dominant a year ago in the clutch, has not recaptured that magic throughout this season. OKC won on a Durant buzzer-beater in December, ran away with a 95-86 win in February after it was tied with 2:14 to go, and in March took a 95-91 win that was tied with 46.2 to go.

As much as Dallas believes it holds the experience and savvy edge in this matchup, the youthful Thunder believe they have closed the late-game gap that so often comes down to poise and execution.

"Mental edge don't matter," Jason Terry said. "The only thing that matters is how we approach Game 1. And for us it's come out defensively, get stops, offensively move the ball and make sure to find some playmakers, and then we're going to be in position to win the game."

The big question is if the Mavs can switch a flip and attain playoff-caliber performances when their inconsistencies have marked the season. Are the Mavs ready for the postseason?

Dirk Nowitzki, who played 26 minutes Thursday night, including 7:22 of the first-quarter debacle in which Dallas surrendered 38 points -- a season-high for an opening quarter -- didn't exactly rush to make a proclamation.

"Well, that was another tough one," Nowitzki said, referring also to the Mavs' eight-point first quarter at Chicago. "We've just started the games off slow, and once we get in the playoffs we can always fall in a hole. We did it in Chicago and we did it again tonight. We just fight an uphill battle all night. So, got to get a better start. Got to get J-Kidd out there to kind of get everything started, so we'll see, we'll see what happens."