Thunder aim for No. 1 seed against scrappy Mavs
The Oklahoma City Thunder have already secured a playoff spot, but they're looking for that top seed in the Western Conference and possibly beyond.
The next step in that journey comes Sunday night, when the reigning Western Conference champions head to Dallas to take on a surging Mavericks team fighting for the final postseason berth in the West.
Dallas is three games behind the Los Angeles Lakers for the eighth spot in the conference playoffs. The Mavs are doing everything they can to get there, winning five of their last six.
If the Mavs can polish off the comeback and make the playoffs for a 13th straight year, they very well may meet the Thunder. OKC is just 1 1/2 games behind the San Antonio Spurs for the top seed in the West.
The Thunder are also playing good ball. They've won two in a row and seven of their last eight. The only setback during that time came in San Antonio to the Spurs.
"They're tough. You know, they're one of the best teams in the league. We all know that," Mavs' forward Dirk Nowitzki said of the Thunder. "We obviously wish we'd have 'Trix (Shawn Marion), who's our best perimeter defender, but it looks like he's going to be out for a minute."
Marion has missed the last five contests with a bruised left calf and is listed as out for the Thunder game.
That means the defensive responsibility of guarding Kevin Durant, the NBA's leading scorer, will fall to rookie Jae Crowder.
The Mavs bested the Cleveland Cavaliers, 96-86, at home on Friday night. Dallas fell behind early but outscored the Cavs, 58-40, in the second half.
Rodrigue Beaubois, who has endured a mercurial season, led the Mavs with 18 points off the bench.
"I thought this was Roddy's best game of the year by far and it was certainly the most timely," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said afterward. "We knew we were going to have to go deep tonight to be able to win."
Nowitzki, Darren Collison and Brandan Wright all had 13 points and O.J. Mayo netted 10. Starting center Chris Kaman only played six minutes, and how he responds to the semi-benching could be an interesting storyline.
For the Thunder, it wasn't an easy 117-104 victory over the Orlando Magic on Friday. They nearly squandered a huge lead, but closed the game on an 11-2 run to secure a playoff spot.
"I like the way we ended the game," head coach Scott Brooks said. "There's no question, we did a good job of executing, we did a good job of getting stops, we did a good job of rebounding and protecting the basket. We scored. That's what we expect to do."
Durant led the Thunder with 26 points, followed by 23 from Russell Westbrook and 20 from Serge Ibaka.
OKC shot 55 percent from the field against the Magic.
The Thunder have won all three matchups with Dallas this season and five in a row all totaled in the series. Durant has averaged 37.0 ppg this season against the Mavs, thanks to a 52-point game on Jan. 18.