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Raptors-Mavericks Preview

AP - Sports

The Dallas Mavericks aren't the NBA's only winless team, but they are the only franchise without a victory and a 2011 championship banner hanging above their home court.

Off to the worst start by a defending champion in 40 years, the Mavericks again try to pick up their first win and bounce back from a heartbreaking defeat Friday night against the Toronto Raptors.

Dallas (0-3) won the franchise's first title with 105-95 win over Miami on June 12, and that could end up being the Mavericks' last win of the 2011 calendar year if they don't defeat the Raptors (1-1).

While Dallas looked sluggish in its first two games, trailing by as many as 35 points against the Heat and by as much as 33 against Denver, a win was well within reach Thursday against Oklahoma City.

The Mavericks led by 12 early and a 3-pointer by Vince Carter with 1.4 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter put Dallas up by one. The Thunder responded with a deep 3-pointer by Kevin Durant at the buzzer, sending the Mavericks to a 104-102 loss.

With the defeat, Dallas became the first defending champion to start 0-3 since the Boston Celtics lost four straight in 1969-70. While their disappointing start is making headlines, the Mavericks are trying not to pay attention.

"I think the more we go out and just play the game itself more, good things happen on the court,'' Shawn Marion said.

"We've got to just go out there and stop worrying about other things and just go out there and just play the game and just play hard.''

The Mavericks are off to their worst start since opening 0-4 in 2006-07. They went on to win an NBA-best and franchise-record 67 games that season, but rebounding from a slow start could be more difficult this year because of the lockout and significant roster turnover. Dallas is replacing two key contributors from last season's team in Tyson Chandler and J.J. Barea.

The Mavericks' offense obviously still revolves around Dirk Nowitzki, and he is coming off his best performance of the season, finishing with 29 points and 10 rebounds.

Nowitzki had 31 points and 13 rebounds in a 114-96 victory in Toronto on Feb. 27, but a sprained right knee kept him out of the first meeting, an 84-76 loss, snapping the Mavericks' 10-game home winning streak in the series.

The Raptors arrive in Dallas to open a three-game trip after losing to Indiana 90-85 on Wednesday.

DeMar DeRozan scored 16 of his game-high 22 points in the fourth quarter to help Toronto trim a 14-point, fourth-period deficit to two, but it wasn't enough. DeRozan also played well down the stretch in Monday's 104-96 win over Cleveland, scoring nine of his 15 points in the final period.

Toronto coach Dwane Casey, an assistant with the Mavericks the last three seasons, is thrilled with DeRozan's late-game exploits, but would also like to see him be more assertive early.

"Start off aggressive, that's one thing I need to do," DeRozan said. "Just got to get off to a better start, but I love the fourth quarter. It's fun to me."

Toronto has been strong defensively in its first two games, although it hasn't faced the stiffest competition. It held the Pacers to 39.5 percent shooting after limiting the Cavaliers to 41.2 percent.

"We got the concept of the defense and we know what we got to do and when we have to do it," Andrea Bargnani said. "The effort is there."

Dallas' defense has been a big reason for its early struggles. It is allowing an average of 108.0 points on 51.8 percent shooting.

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