Dirk Nowitzki: Not scared of any team in West

DALLAS – As far as Dirk Nowitzki is concerned, the road out of the Western Conference still runs through Dallas.

The defending NBA champion Dallas Mavericks might not be a popular pick after remodeling their roster due to financially-motivated decisions, but their superstar believes they’re still the team to beat despite some early-season struggles.

“I haven’t seen one team in the West that I’m scared of,” Nowitzki said. “I really haven’t. I think we can compete with all of them. Oklahoma City has probably the best record, but I think we’ve played them well every time we’ve seen them and everybody else has been up and down.”

The Oklahoma City Thunder has jumped out to a NBA-best 15-3 record, but the Mavs feel they have a mental edge over the team they dismissed in five games in last season’s West finals. Dallas sixth man Jason Terry referred to it as a “big brother-little brother scenario” after the Mavs’ 100-87 win over Oklahoma City on Jan. 2.

The Thunder won on Kevin Durant’s buzzer-beating 28-footer in the teams’ other meeting this season, which dropped the Mavs to 0-3 at the time.

Dallas is now 11-8 and tied with the Los Angeles Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers for sixth in the West despite Nowitzki’s early-season woes. After struggling by his standards for 16 games, Nowitzki will sit out his fourth consecutive game Friday night against the Utah Jazz, taking a week to go through a personal training camp and strengthen his sore right knee.

The Mavericks, the league’s oldest team, anticipate ebbs and flows to the regular season. They aren’t concerned about playoff seeding as long as they qualify. Their priority is to be as rested, fresh and ready to peak once the postseason begins.

“All we have to do is keep working and hopefully keep everyone healthy and be there when it counts and in the playoffs,” said Nowitzki, who hopes to return Sunday against the rival San Antonio Spurs. “But I’m not scared of seeing anyone I’ve seen.”