Thunder take control early against Mavs

Michael Kinney, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

OKLAHOMA CITY -- When Dallas has taken on Oklahoma City this year, the Mavericks haven't looked like a team fighting to reach .500. In the two previous matchups, the Mavericks lost both, but the Thunder had to go into overtime each time.
However, the Mavs reverted to form of sorts Monday night in the teams' third meeting. The Thunder dominated from the opening tap and rolled to a 112-91 victory at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Despite surpassing 100 points for the 35th time this season, it was the Thunder's defense that had the players looking at the stat sheets. They forced 14 turnovers and racked up 25 fast-break points.
"Key was coming out with a defensive mindset. I think tonight was just one of those nights we came out locked up and let the offense take care of itself," Russell Westbrook said. "I think we did a good job defensively of playing together and getting out on break. Just getting stops. Then we forced a lot of turnovers and gave us an opportunity to get transition points."
Westbrook led all scorers with 24 points and added seven assists and three steals. Kevin Durant scored 19 points on 6-of-11 shooting from the field, and he pulled down a game-high 10 rebounds. Durant's scoring average against the Mavs this year dropped from 46 points per game to 37.
"Kevin leads the NBA in scoring and he can easily do it for many years," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "But that's not Kevin's focus. He's committed to winning basketball games. He's going to get shots. That's one of my jobs is to get shots for him. He averages 30 points for a reason."
Kevin Martin added 17 points off the bench for the Thunder (36-12).
Shawn Marion paced Dallas (20-28) with 23 points. However, after collecting a total of 28 rebounds in his previous two games, he was held to one board against the Thunder.
Dirk Nowitzki made 3 of 11 shots from the field and scored 10 points for the Mavs, but he hasn't given up on making the postseason.
"I'm going to keep pushing," Nowitzki said. "I'm going to keep getting better. Crazier things have happened in this league."
In the first quarter, the Mavs kept the game tight behind the play of Marion. The veteran forward hit four of five shots and blocked two shots.
However, when the Thunder began to insert its bench with 2:20 left in the first quarter, Oklahoma City went on a 22-6 run to take a 44-28 lead. The reserves were able to get into the passing lanes and come up with steals that turned into fast-break points.
Without Vince Carter, who was ill, the Mavericks were missing a vital scoring punch off the bench. Coach Rick Carlisle hoped the other reserves would be able to pick up the slack, but they were unable to do so in the first half.
"When we substituted we struggled, " Carlisle said. "Not having Vince out there was a big factor. We just have to play better. We don't have any excuses."
It didn't get any better when the Thunder starters came back into the game. Durant and Westbrook kept the pressure on as the Mavs started to lose their composure. Dallas' O.J. Mayo and Jae Crowder exchanged shoves and stares with Kendrick Perkins and the entire Thunder bench.
Oklahoma City led 68-44 at halftime, its highest point total for a half this season.
The only news to come out of the second half was Durant picking up another technical foul. Coming into this season, he had 12 in his career. He has nine this season. If he gets seven more, he would be suspended one game.
The Mavericks got no closer than 20 points in the second half. Oklahoma City took its starters out late in the third quarter and they never returned.
After its loss in Cleveland on Saturday, the Thunder seemed to need a game like this.
"The last couple of weeks, it has been a little choppy at times," Brooks said. "One of the things we do is work. Our guys work every night. It's not always pretty. It's not always perfect. But for the most part they compete every time down the court."
NOTES: In his first two games against Dallas, NBA scoring leader Durant had a higher scoring average (46.0) than field-goal percentage (44.0). ... Westbrook is one of only two players to rank in the NBA's top 10 in scoring (22.6 ppg) and assists (8.3 apg) this season. ... Nowitzki made his return to the starting lineup after missing previous two games with a strained right thigh. The former All-Star has missed 29 games this season because of injury and is averaging 14.8 points and 5.5 rebounds. Both are the lowest averages since his rookie year. "Like any team in this league, if you don't have your best player, you are going to be in a tough position to win a lot of games consistently," Brooks said. "Dirk is one of the best shot-makers, players and teammates this league has ever seen."

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