Week ahead: Here come the Thunder

January, 30, 2012
1/30/12
11:00
AM CT
Here come four more games in six nights, but one stands out as a marquee matchup. On Wednesday night at the American Airlines Center, Kevin Durant, the newly extended Russell Westbrook and the rest of the rolling Oklahoma City Thunder return for the first time since the oldest team in the league whipped them, 100-87, on Jan. 2.

Also on the docket is tonight's second game of the season's eighth back-to-back at the Phoenix Suns. And there's Friday's home game against the wildly improved and road-tested Indiana Pacers as well as Saturday's quick trip to face the Cleveland Cavaliers and rookie of the year candidate Kyrie Irving.

But, let's get real, it's the Thunder matchup that matters. The young guns from the north have won 16 of 19 and four in a row heading into tonight's eagerly anticipated matchup at the Los Angeles Clippers.

You might remember this recent salvo launched by one Dirk Nowitzki, now one game into his return from a week-long personal training camp, regarding the new power structure in the Western Conference as it pertains to the defending champs:
"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."

Dirk's right. Dallas thought it had the victory in Oklahoma City on Dec. 30 when Vince Carter drilled the go-head 3-pointer with 3.1 seconds to play. Then Durant did his thing and pumped in a 27-foot game-winner. In Dallas, despite playing a fourth game in five nights, the Mavs handled the Thunder with the poise of a veteran club that's been there, done that.

Dallas is likely to play all four games this week without Jason Kidd (strained right calf) so the fast-track education of Rodrigue Beaubois, perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the Mavs at the moment, continues.

Now, here's a glance at the week:

Tonight: at Phoenix Suns (7-12), 8 p.m.
TV/Radio: FSSW/103.3 FM ESPN; 1270 AM (Spanish)
What to watch: Steve Nash had this to say last week about his Suns: "We have to play really efficient because we're not a very talented team." Nothing like being blunt, especially when the truth is so glaringly obvious. The Mavs have taken care of the Suns at home twice and now venture to the Valley for the first time. Phoenix is just 4-5 at home and if you want to keep looking for the Suns near the top of the league's scoring rankings, stop. They rank 23rd at 91.2 points a game. And you thought Dallas had trouble scoring. The Suns might have a measure of momentum coming off a big home win over Memphis on Saturday.

Wednesday: vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (16-3), 7 p.m.
TV/Radio: ESPN, FSSW/103.3 FM ESPN; 1270 AM (Spanish)
What to watch: OKC's young legs might be romping through this strange season, but it has yet to show that it has surpassed the champs in the first two early meetings, which has to scare the Thunder just a bit considering the Mavs weren't playing particularly a month ago. More disconcerting for the team that is the overwhelming favorite to play the Miami Heat in June is that the struggling Nowitzki has averaged 27.5 points and 8.0 rebounds in the two games. Against the rest of the league, Nowitzki is averaging 15.7 points and 5.6 rebounds. Both teams will have the previous day off which should make for an even battle.

Friday: vs. Indiana Pacers (13-6), 7:30 p.m.
TV/Radio: FSSW/103.3 FM ESPN; 1270 AM (Spanish)
What to watch: The free-agent addition of David West has been a boon for this suddenly potent franchise that boasts five players scoring in double figures and a sixth, former dangerous Spurs guard George Hill knocking on the door. The Pacers have done their damage mostly on the road, playing 13 of their first 19 games away from home and winning eight. Coach Frank Vogel invoked the Mavs recently to his team, telling him that if Dallas could go from a disappointing first-round out one year and then ride tremendous passing and teamwork to the NBA title the next, so could his club. Indiana comes to town after a road game at Minnesota on Wednesday. This one should make for a pretty good under-the-radar ballgame.

Saturday: at Cleveland Cavaliers (8-11), 6:30 p.m.
TV/Radio: FSSW/103.3 FM ESPN; 1270 AM (Spanish)
What to watch: This won't be an easy game. The Mavs will arrive in Cleveland well after midnight and then will have to ratchet up the energy level to play a fourth game in six nights. The Cavs possess rookie of the year leading candidate Kyrie Irving, who is ushering in the post-LeBron James and who will give Rodrigue Beaubois an intriguing test. Irving, the No. 1 pick in the 2011 draft, is already the Cavs' best player, averaging team highs in points (17.9) and assists (4.8). Cleveland has two former Mavs in Antawn Jamison and Ryan Hollins and two former Texas Longhorns in Tristan Thompson, the fourth overall pick last summer, and Daniel Gibson.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Dirk Nowitzki
PTS AST STL MIN
21.7 2.7 0.9 32.9
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsD. Nowitzki 6.2
AssistsM. Ellis 5.7
StealsM. Ellis 1.7
BlocksB. Wright 0.9