by Earl K. Sneed

There’s no way the Oklahoma City Thunder should have even sniffed a possible victory in Dallas, Saturday night.

But they did.

There’s no way the Thunder should have surrendered a nine-point second half lead, especially on a night Kevin Durant, Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook combined for 66 points.

But they did.

And there is no way Dirk Nowitzki should have dropped a ridiculous 46 points in under 40 minutes of tick.

But he did, and SLAM was there to speak with the former MVP himself after the third-best scoring output of his career.

Pregame

Mavs spark plug J.J. Barea has been big. He’s undoubtedly had much to do with the team’s 11-2 turnaround in recent weeks.

SLAM: What are your thoughts on what you’ve been able to do for this team?
J.J. Barea: It’s been great. We’ve been winning lately, and it’s just good to be out there with the guys and just being a part of it. It feels good that Coach and the other players have that much confidence in me.

SLAM: What did you tell yourself when Josh Howard went down, and you were asked to play more minutes?
JJB: When he went down at first, I still wasn’t in the rotation, but then they gave me my chance and I’ve just been trying to do the most with it. I’ve just tried to take advantage of it, and it has worked out.

SLAM: No team has taken a commanding lead in the Southwest Division. Have you guys been paying attention to the standings, and if so, how does that affect your play on the court?
JJB: We don’t pay attention to that. We know it’s really close, so if we win a couple of games then we could be in a good position. If we lose a couple of games, we could drop a couple of positions in the standings. So, we are just taking it game by game, and playing it one game at a time, and not worrying about the standings too much.

SLAM: How much does this team still feel the sting from the double overtime loss to San Antonio?
JJB: Yeah, that hurt a little bit. We’re still playing pretty well, though. I think we still had a good game, but we just had a couple of possessions where we couldn’t come up with the plays at the end.

Military MaverickFirst quarter

– The floor seats of the AAC are missing the normal high rollers of the Dallas Metroplex, and it reflects more of the “I’d die for my country” types. A good majority of the season ticket holders and floor seat occupants forfeited their tickets for the Mavs’ annual “Seats for Soldiers” Day, so courtside was filled with veterans from Texas and Oklahoma. Good thing to see.

– A roaring ovation for Kevin Durant, as the former UT standout returns to Texas.

– So after getting a dogfight with Charlotte, there’s no way the Mavericks are going to get off to a slow start against the Thunder, right? Wrong.

– From the opening tip, Jeff Green lets the building know that he came to play, scoring the Thunder’s first six and taking it right at Dirk, who doesn’t look like he can defend Green’s versatility at the power forward spot.

– The Thunder push out to a quick nine-point lead, and like Green, Kevin Durant is exploiting his matchup with Devean George.

– The Mavs close the gap to five, down 23-28, and the Thunder have served notice that they come to play on this night.

Second quarter

– Jeff Green’s assertiveness is continuing in the second period, and he could be looking to explode for a huge game.

– Jason “JET” Terry keeps the Mavericks in it with his outside shooting, but the Thunder are actually capable of looking like an NBA team. Who knew?

– After the Thunder push their lead to nine, the Mavs cut it back down to one, and Dirk makes what will probably be the only defensive play he will make in this game (for that matter, for the month of December), by taking a charge on a driving Jeff Green.

– Russell Westbrook gets hot at the end of the quarter, and the Thunder take a 54-50 lead into the break.

Halftime

– Mavs’ dancers in their camo to support the soldiers on hand. (If you’re fantasizing, then let me add that the dancers are accompanied by a group of overweight guys in cut off tanks called the Mavs Maniacs.)

Durantized?Third quarter

– Dirk may have just avoided being on the cover of a Kevin Durant poster, as he dodges out of the way when Durant goes in for a dunk.

– The third demonstrates a mixture of two things: 1) The Mavs not playing their best basketball, and 2) The Thunder playing about as well as they can possibly play.

– The Thunder hold a nine-point third quarter lead, but the Mavericks defense is picking up and Dirk is starting to take over.

– The Thunder go into the fourth nursing a 80-79 lead, but with these two teams’ track records, no one would be shocked to see a big fourth for the Mavericks and a dismal quarter for the Thunder.

Forth quarter

– After a Dirk 3-pointer gives the Mavs an 85-84 lead, Earl Watson hits a jumper in Barea’s grill.

– In a back and forth quarter, it may come down to Dirk’s cold-blooded three ball, putting the Mavs up 98-93 with 2:54 left.

– Green commits a costly turnover looking for Durant on the block, as the ball goes out of bounce. That’s followed up by a turnover by Damien Wilkins, as the Thunder self-destruct before my very eyes.

– OKC will drop another one (103-99), making them 2-22, and all they have to blame is their own poor execution in the final minutes. For the better part of three quarters, they executed quite well.

Postgame

SLAM: After struggling against Charlotte and Oklahoma City, are you guys worried that this team will have a carry-over effect against Denver?
Jason Kidd: Nope, those two games are over with. Sometimes you play to the level of your competition, or you kind of feel that you’re going to win, but at some point you take control of the game, and as a veteran ball club, we did that tonight. We got the win, and now we move forward and get ready for Denver.

SLAM: All the guys on the team are still talking about the loss to San Antonio. How important would a win over Denver be to erase that loss from your memory until you play the Spurs again?
JK: It would be huge. Besides Boston, Cleveland or L.A. (Lakers), Denver may be one of the best teams right now. They’re playing at a high level, so for us to protect the home court against a talented team would be huge, and it would give us confidence before we go out East.

SLAM: Would saying that you were in the zone be an understatement?
DrainoDirk Nowitzki: You know, I had a good day off yesterday. I felt good this morning in shootaround, but you never know. I felt good early, and my first couple shots went in. I was just in a rhythm, and from there I just tried to be aggressive. If I’m in a rhythm like that, I’m just going to keep on shooting.

SLAM: Were you guys surprised by the Thunder’s effort, despite their record?
DN: You can never take games for granted in this League. Guys have pride, and on every team there are guys that can make plays if you don’t play hard. You let those teams get going, and next thing you know they’re knocking down shots and we’re in a ballgame. We just have to do a better job of bringing more force, from the beginning of the game.

SLAM: How worried are you about the intensity level of this team after poor starts against Charlotte and Oklahoma City?
DN: Well, usually with a veteran team like we have, the intensity usually should go up with certain teams that we’re playing. We know that we have to play a lot better against Denver. They’ve got a lot of athletes out there and defensively, they’re scrambling, they’re reaching, they’re all over the place. So it’s going to be a great challenge for us, and we have to be ready to go from the get-go.