Mavericks, Doncic brace for Thunder, Westbrook
Russell Westbrook and Luka Doncic will face off in Dallas on Sunday after their most productive games of the season.
The Thunder, meanwhile, have been the most proficient team in the league since the first 10 days of the campaign.
Former MVP Westbrook had a season-high 40 points and added 12 rebounds and eight assists when Oklahoma City beat Phoenix 118-102 on Friday despite the absence of Paul George, who missed his first game of the season with a right quad contusion.
The Thunder are 22-8 since losing their first four games, the best record in the league in that stretch.
Rookie of the Year candidate Doncic had a season-high 34 points against New Orleans on Friday, but it was not enough to lift the Mavericks past Anthony Davis and the Pelicans, who earned a split of the home-and-home set with a 114-102 victory.
The Mavericks (16-18) will play their second straight home-and-home, meeting the Thunder in Oklahoma City on Monday.
"I was just being aggressive per usual," said Westbrook, who scored 15 points in the final 6 1/2 minutes when the Thunder pulled away from the Suns with a 37-18 fourth quarter.
Dennis Schroder had 20 points against Phoenix, 14 in the fourth quarter, while starting in the backcourt with Westbrook.
The Thunder also got a unexpected boost from forward Abdel Nader, who had career highs with 18 points, five rebounds and 33 minutes played. Nader had 16 points and 14 rebounds in 11 previous games.
"We're good, (Schroder) is great, we know who's got it going," Westbrook said.
"It's been an easy transition for him and for myself as well. Every guy on this team is very, very important. Every role is needed. The guys stepped up and made plays."
Oklahoma City had another strong defensive effort against Phoenix, limiting the Suns to 43.3 percent shooting while holding a 49-34 rebounding edge.
The Thunder were tied for fourth in the league in points allowed (105.7) and eighth in opponents' field goal percentage (45.1) entering Saturday. They were also second in rebounding differential at plus-4.7.
"We've leaned on defense all season long and it's important that we constantly keep leaning on that for us to win games," Westbrook said.
The game also matches the best road team in the Western Conference against one of the best home teams. Oklahoma City is 10-8 on the road and Dallas is 14-3 at home. Only Golden State (15) has more home wins among teams in the West.
Dallas beat Oklahoma City 111-96 in the first game of the season series Nov. 10, when Westbrook was out with an ankle injury.
Doncic had 22 points, eight assists and six rebounds as the Mavericks stopped the Thunder's seven-game winning streak. Dallas shot a 55.8 percent from the field while the Thunder shot 39.2 percent, although George and Steven Adams had 20 points and 13 rebounds apiece.
George, who is averaging 26.3 points and 8.4 rebounds and has made 112 3s, is expected to play Sunday. Thunder small forward Terrance Ferguson played only seven minutes Friday before leaving with an illness, and his status is unknown.
Doncic has played at a similarly superior level in the last seven games, averaging 25.7 points, 7.1 assists and 5.9 rebounds, although the Mavericks have lost seven of their last eight.
Harrison Barnes had 21 points against the Pelicans and Dennis Smith Jr. had 14 in his first start Dec. 13 after missing the previous 11 games with a sprained right wrist, although the Mavs had no answer for Davis, who scored 48 points.
Dallas also missed 10 free throws in New Orleans while falling to a league-worst 2-15 on the road. The Mavs begin a four-game road trip with their game in Oklahoma City on Monday.
"I hate losing, so it's frustrating for me," Doncic told reporters after going 7-of-13 from the foul line.
Dirk Nowitzki had a season-high 11 points in 11 minutes against the Pelicans as he continues to work back into the rotation after offseason ankle surgery.
"We just got to find a way somehow to get that extra stop, be a little smarter, don't turn the ball over, take good shots (and) put the ball in our playmakers' hands," Nowitzki told reporters.
Updated December 29, 2018