Thunder to face Mavericks as playoffs await
The Oklahoma City Thunder learned Saturday night they're once again headed to the playoffs. On Sunday, the Thunder will begin focusing on developing the consistency needed to ensure their postseason run isn't a short one.
The Thunder will continue their longest homestand of the season and look to start a much-needed winning streak, when they host the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday.
Both teams are coming off losses in their previous games. The Thunder last played on Friday, when they fell to the visiting Denver Nuggets 115-105. The Mavericks haven't played since Thursday, when they dropped a 105-99 decision to the host Miami Heat.
The loss to the Nuggets cost the Thunder (44-32) a chance to clinch a postseason berth on the floor, but their ticket to the playoffs was punched Saturday when the Sacramento Kings fell 119-108 to the Houston Rockets. The loss ensures the Kings (37-39) cannot catch either the Thunder or the San Antonio Spurs, who are tied for the final two playoff spots in the Western Conference.
This marks the fourth straight playoff berth for the Thunder, who have reached the postseason nine times in the last 10 seasons. They missed by the slimmest of margins in 2014-15, finishing with the same 45-37 record as the New Orleans Pelicans but losing the tiebreaker because the Pelicans won the season series 3-1.
However, the Thunder haven't gotten out of the first round since the seismic 2015-16 season, when they squandered a three games-to-one lead against the Golden State Warriors and fell in seven games in the Western Conference finals. Weeks later, Kevin Durant bolted from the Thunder to Golden State, which has won the last two NBA titles.
The Thunder aren't heading into the home stretch with much momentum. Oklahoma City has lost six of eight and is 7-13 since a four-game winning streak ended Feb. 11.
"We're not discouraged," forward Abdel Nader told reporters Saturday. "We're playing well, we've just got to put it all together."
The Mavericks (29-46) are in the midst of an even bigger funk. Dallas has locked up a third straight trip to the lottery by going 3-17 since Feb. 11 to fall into 14th place in the Western Conference.
Unless the Mavericks win at least four of their remaining seven games, they will finish with the franchise's second-worst mark this century -- better only than last year's team, which went 24-58.
The Mavericks have found reasons for optimism over their last three games. After stunning the Warriors 126-91 on March 23, Dallas led into the fourth quarter against the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday and the Miami Heat on Thursday.
"We played a great first half," Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle said of the Mavericks, who led the Heat 59-49 at the half but were outscored 30-17 in the fourth quarter. "The second half we didn't hit as many shots, but we had chances."
The game may be the final clash between the Thunder and longtime rival Dirk Nowitzki, who has played his entire 20-year career with the Mavericks and could retire after the season. Assuming Nowitzki plays Sunday, it will mark the 72nd time he has faced the Thunder/Seattle SuperSonics franchise, which is tied with the Houston Rockets for his third-most frequent opponent. He has played against the Spurs 77 times and against the Memphis/Vancouver Grizzlies 74 times.
Rookie guard Luka Doncic, who looks primed to take over as the Mavericks' franchise player, will sit out Sunday due to a right thigh contusion suffered against the Heat.
--Field Level Media
Updated March 30, 2019