Division leaders clash in Big D when OKC visits Mavs

Two of the top teams in the Western Conference square off in Big D tonight when the Oklahoma City Thunder visit the reigning NBA champion Mavericks.

After a dismal 1-4 start to the season the Mavs have started to hit their stride, winning a third straight game and improving to 14-8 on the season Monday in Phoenix.

Veteran Delonte West drained five of Dallas' season-high 14 three-pointers en route to 25 points in that one as the Mavericks thumped the Steve Nash-less Suns, 122-99, at US Airways Center.

"We caught a break with Nash not playing. I don't think you can overlook that as a big factor in the game," Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle said.

Vince Carter also had five treys and finished with 21 points while Shawn Marion had 20 points and five rebounds for the Mavs, who have now defeated the Suns eight consecutive times and lead the Southwest Division by a game over San Antonio.

In his second game back since sitting out four contests to rest a balky knee and work on conditioning Dirk Nowitzki scored 10 points.

"We place a high standard on our play," Carlisle said. "And when you get off to an abysmal start like we did, it's painful. But we've climbed out of that and we've got to understand that just because we're winning and playing well now, there's nothing guaranteed and we've gotta keep working at it."

Veteran point guard Jason Kidd is expected to miss his third straight game tonight with a strained right calf but the athletic Roddy Beaubois has stepped it up in his absence, netting 14.7 points and 7.0 assists over his past three contests.

The Northwest Division-leading Thunder, who also pace the entire Western Conference with a 16-4 mark, lost for the first time in five games on Monday in LA when Chris Paul scored 26 points and dished out 14 assists as the Clippers jumped out early and rolled past Oklahoma City, 112-100, at Staples Center.

Kevin Durant scored a game-high 36 points on 14-of-23 shooting to go along with 13 rebounds, while Russell Westbrook stuffed the stat sheet with 31 points with five steals, four assists and four rebounds for the Thunder. Daequan Cook added 12 off the bench for Oklahoma City, which fell to 8-3 as the visitor this season.

"This is our first bad game in 20," coach Scott Brooks told the Thunder's website. "That's the bottom line, we had a bad game. One of the things that this team does well that I'm proud of is they bounce back. You play 20 games, you have one bad game, I think any team in this league will live with that."

Dallas, of course, topped OKC in five games during last season's West finals on its way to the franchise's first NBA title. The clubs have also already met twice in 2011-12 with each team holding serve on its home floor.