While the first week of the season went about as well as possible for the Oklahoma City Thunder, it could not have gone much worse for the Dallas Mavericks.
Last Thursday's meeting in Oklahoma City pretty much sums that up.
Four nights after Kevin Durant hit an incredible buzzer-beater in a win over the defending champions, the undefeated Thunder look to continue their best start in a dozen years against a Dallas team trying to avoid its worst start in 13 seasons in Monday night's rematch.
Led by Durant's clutch scoring and a stingy defense, Oklahoma City (5-0) is quickly looking like the team to beat in the Western Conference. The Thunder fell to the Mavericks in five games in last season's West finals, but got a small measure of revenge on Thursday.
Oklahoma City seemed like it was headed to its first loss when Vince Carter hit a 3-pointer with 1.4 seconds remaining to put Dallas up by one, but Durant responded with a deep 3-pointer of his own, lifting the Thunder to a 104-102 win.
Oklahoma City followed that up with Saturday's 107-97 victory over Phoenix to improve to 5-0 for the first time since opening 6-0 in 1998, as the Seattle SuperSonics.
"You've got to start the new year with a win,'' said Russell Westbrook, who had a game-high 18 points. "Hopefully, we can keep this going.''
While the Thunder are hoping to bridge their early-season success into 2012, the Mavericks are hoping to stop the bleeding.
Dallas (1-4) has struggled to build its chemistry after losing key contributors Tyson Chandler and J.J. Barea from last year's championship run. The abbreviated preseason didn't help, as newcomers Carter, Lamar Odom and Delonte West are still trying to get comfortable with a new system.
"We got a lot of new pieces and we're trying to do this on the run,'' Jason Kidd said after Sunday's 99-82 loss at previously winless Minnesota. "We're going to make mistakes and we just have to try and get better.''
The Mavericks turned the ball over 17 times against the Timberwolves, while Kidd, Odom, Carter and Jason Terry combined to score 26 points on 8 of 30 shooting. Dirk Nowitzki finished with 21 points for Dallas, which was outscored 25-13 in the fourth quarter.
The Mavericks are trying to avoid their worst start since opening 1-8 in 1998-99, and another defeat would give them five, a total they didn't reach last season until their 24th game.
"We have to get better (Monday) and keep moving,'' coach Rick Carlisle said. "Try to get ourselves back moving in the right direction.''
That obviously won't be easy against Durant, who is likely eager to take the court and put his worst offensive showing of the season behind him.
After scoring 30 against the Mavericks, the two-time defending NBA scoring champion finished with 12 on 4 of 11 shooting Saturday, falling well short in his bid to become the first player since Michael Jordan in 1986 to score at least 30 in the first five games of a season.
Durant's off night against the Suns didn't hurt, though, as the Thunder came up with another big defensive effort, limiting Phoenix to 39.8 percent shooting. Oklahoma City is holding opponents to an average of 40.6 percent from the field.
"We're playing hard, everybody's engaging on the defensive end and helping each other,'' Thabo Sefolosha said. "It's a big part of our success right now.''
The Mavericks shot 42.2 percent against the Thunder, as Nowitzki had a season-best 29 points on 9 of 17. The rest of Dallas' starters combined to score 34.
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