It has been more than 40 years since a defending NBA champion lost its first three games. Heading into Oklahoma City, the Dallas Mavericks are in danger of doing just that.
Four days after raising their championship banner, the Mavericks look to avoid their third straight loss Thursday night when they visit the Oklahoma City Thunder, who are aiming for their first 4-0 start since 2002, when they were the Seattle SuperSonics.
Dallas won its first title last season, winning at least 50 games for the 11th straight year and eliminating Portland, the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, the Thunder and heavily-favored Miami in the playoffs.
The team chemistry that helped the Mavericks through their playoff run has been noticeably absent early this season, with Dallas losing its first two games by an average of 16.5 points. The Mavericks trailed by as many as 35 in their season opener against the Heat and by 33 during a 115-93 loss to Denver on Monday. They've allowed 110.0 points per game after holding teams to an average of 96.0 last season.
"We look old and slow and out of shape, a bad combination," said NBA Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki, who has sat out the entire fourth quarter of both games because they have been so lopsided. "I still think this team has a lot of potential. But we have to turn the corner."
The last NBA champions to lose their first two games the following season were the Los Angeles Lakers at the start of 2002-03. No reigning champion has started 0-3 since the Boston Celtics lost four straight in 1969-70, immediately following the retirement of Bill Russell.
Dallas lost its first four games in 2006-07 but recovered to post 67 wins. This season could be different, however, because of the lockout, the abbreviated training camp and preseason schedule, and significant roster turnover. The Mavericks are trying to incorporate new additions Lamar Odom, Vince Carter and Delonte West while making up for the departures of Tyson Chandler and J.J. Barea.
"I've got a lot of work to do," coach Rick Carlisle said.
Carlisle's club didn't have much trouble with the Thunder last season, winning six of eight meetings including four of five in the Western Conference finals. The Mavs were 4-0 in Oklahoma City, where they averaged 104.8 points.
Oklahoma City (3-0) has looked strong early this season. Kevin Durant had 32 points and eight rebounds and James Harden added 20 points off the bench in a 98-95 win over Memphis on Wednesday night.
Durant missed six of his first seven shots but finished 10 of 17 from the field.
"You know, I think I'm maturing as a player," he said. "Last year, if I got off to a slow start, I would have let it affect me. But I try to keep my composure and believe in myself."
Durant helped make up for a terrible performance by Russell Westbrook, who missed all 13 of his field-goal attempts. The All-Star point guard is shooting 31.4 percent (16 for 51) and averaging 6.0 turnovers during Oklahoma City's undefeated start.
Durant is averaging 31.7 points, 6.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists while shooting 55.9 percent.
Nowitzki missed Dallas' loss to Oklahoma City last regular season with a knee injury. Two of his three highest-scoring performances of 2010-11 came in the playoff series against the Thunder, scoring a season-high 48 in Game 1 and 40 in Game 4.