DALLAS -- The anticipation is that the Oklahoma City Thunder will come to town with a big old chip on their shoulder.
"We beat them on their home floor twice, so they want to come over and repay the favor," Dallas Mavericks center Tyson Chandler said. "Especially now, they know we’ve got some guys out. They feel like it’s their opportunity. But we’ve got to come out and throw the first punch and keep it scrappy, and we have to play the entire game like we did in that fourth quarter [Tuesday vs. Portland]."
The finale of this three-game season series culminates Thursday night at American Airlines Center. The Mavs took the first two in similar fashion, dominanting the fourth quarter defensively and running the floor for easy buckets. Both games also saw NBA scoring leader Kevin Durant virtually shut down in crunch time. The latter matchup on Dec. 27 surprisingly unfolded that way even with Nowitzki injuring his knee early in the second quarter.
Nowitzki's status for Thursday's game remains uncertain. He has missed five consecutive games. And Caron Butler obviously will be unavailable. He's expected to miss the rest of the season after undergoing knee surgery Tuesday.
"Every team coming in here is trying to get a win," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "They see us a little depleted, etc., etc. Everbody else we’re playing right now is at full strength. These games are all going to be tough, but that’s the kind of challenge you want. Right now this is an opportunity for us to get better as a team.
"It’s going to start for us defensively. That’s where it’s going to have to start for us as a basketball team."
Durant's numbers have been impressive against the Mavs this season -- that is until the fourth quarters started. He's scored 32 and 28 points, respectively in the two games. But in the last game, he was 2-of-5 from the floor in the fourth quarter for five points. He missed his first three shots, and his first made field goal of the period came with the Thunder already trailing by nine points.
In the first meeting on Nov. 24, Durant went 3-of-7 in the fourth quarter, but started 1-of-5, and the game was all but sealed when he threw in his final two field goals.
"We just have to give him different looks," Mavs guard DeShawn Stevenson said of guarding Durant. "Myself, J-Kidd [Jason Kidd] and Trix [Shawn Marion], try to get up under him; he likes that foul call, so just get him [to take] tough shots. He’s a talented player and he’ll get shots up."