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Monday, March 5, 2012
Dirk Nowitzki: Week ahead is 'brutal'

By Jeff Caplan

The Dallas Mavericks begin Week 2 of the stretch from you-know-where. Last week will seem like a leisurely weekend compared to this one with five games in six nights -- including the lone back-to-back-to-back of the season to cap this thing. It all starts tonight at Western Conference-leading Oklahoma City, which is a tidy 15-1 at home.

When this nine-games-in-12 nights stretch, an unprecedented stint in franchise history, started last Tuesday, Dirk Nowitzki was asked how he can possibly look at that schedule and not have a bad attitude toward it.

"I have that attitude," he said. "It is brutal."

At least they'll visit the Oklahoma City Thunder about as rested as they're going to be having had a day off after Saturday's 102-96 victory. Although Nowitzki and the starters had to return to prevent a catastrophic embarrassment as a 23-point lead slipped away in the fourth quarter, Nowitzki and Jason Kidd still logged fewer than 30 minutes.

This is the last of four meetings this season. OKC holds a 2-1 advantage, but the sense from the Mavs' side is that they were darn close to taking all three. Kevin Durant won the first game in OKC on a buzzer-beating 3, and the Thunder took control late in Dallas against a depleted Mavs' roster.

Entering this game, OKC is 7 1/2 games ahead of the Mavs (22-16) in West standings. So what's Dallas' plan as it crosses the Red River for the last time in the regular season?

"We're going to hope they miss," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "They're killing people."

There's something else to consider this week. While the Mavs will have one day of rest over the next six, four of their five opponents will have had at least one night off.

Here's a look at the week ahead:

Tonight: at Oklahoma City Thunder (29-8), 7 p.m.
TV/Radio: FSSW, NBA TV/ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM; 1270 AM (Spanish)
What to watch: The Thunder try to become the second team in the league and the first in the West to notch 30 wins. They'll also be glad to be back home for the first time since Feb. 23, when they beat the Lakers by 15 heading into the All-Star break. OKC went 2-1 on the road trip, dropping Saturday's game at Atlanta while pulling out a pair of close ones at Philadelphia and Orlando by a combined seven points.

Tuesday: vs. New York Knicks (18-19), 7:30 p.m.
TV/Radio: FSSW, NBA TV/ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM; 1270 AM (Spanish)
What to watch:Tyson Chandler will be dreaming about his championship ring Monday in Dallas while the Mavs are playing at the Thunder and then making the short flight back home. Chandler is the final member of the title team to pick up his ring. He did a number on his former teammates a couple weeks ago with 14 points, 10 rebounds and three blocked shots in a Knicks win during full-on Linsanity. This time around the Mavs will get to see old friend Carmelo Anthony as well. The Knicks were on their way to moving over .500, but a late Paul Pierce 3-pointer tied Sunday afternoon's game and Boston won it in overtime. So, that's two teams in a row the Mavs will face that are coming off losses.

Thursday: at Phoenix Suns (16-20), 9:30 p.m.
TV/Radio: TNT/ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM; 1270 AM (Spanish)
What to watch: The Suns start the week coming off two impressive home wins against the Timberwolves and Clippers to even their home record at 9-9. After losing four in a row, Steve Nash's Suns have won four of five. And they really are Nash's Suns. The 38-year-old All-Star could demand a trade to a contender, but that's not his style and it looks like he'll ride out the final year of his contract in the desert. From there who knows? Well, we do know, courtesy of ESPN.com's Marc Stein that the Mavs will look to reunite Nash and Nowitzki if their top plans of signing Deron Williams or Dwight Howard or both doesn't pan out. This one should be tough on the Suns with a date at OKC the night before.

Friday: at Sacramento Kings (12-24), 9 p.m.
TV/Radio: FSSW, NBA TV/ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM; 1270 AM (Spanish)
What to watch: The last time these two teams met in Dallas, the Kings set a record for futility by a Mavs opponent by scoring 23 points in the first half and 60 for the game. Think they'll remember that? The Kings' 12 victories are more than only New Orleans in the West, and we all know what the Hornets did to the Mavs last week. While the Mavs will surely be feeling fatigue by this point, the Kings will have the luxury of a night off after playing at home.

Saturday: at Golden State Warriors (14-20), 9:30 p.m.
TV/Radio: FSSW, NBA TV/ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM; 1270 AM (Spanish)
What to watch: It's a good thing these aren't the Warriors of old, oh, like last season. Mark Jackson's team is more defense-focused and offense has dropped off to 97.6 points a game, which in this strange season is still good for seventh in the league. As for that defensive focus, well, Golden State is just one of five teams allowing 100 or more points a game (100.3). So, basically, Jackson has stifled the Warriors' high-scoring offense while not really making up for it at the other end. Still, the Mavs will be so ready to get home at this point that this is bound to be a struggle from the start. And you can't overlook the Warriors' true advantage in this one: Monta Ellis and company will have had two days off.