First it was LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Then, Chris Paul and the Los Angeles Clippers brought their high-wire act to town.
Now the Dallas Mavericks continue their challenging homestand with a marquee matchup at 7:30 p.m. Monday at American Airlines Center against Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The MVP of last month’s NBA All-Star game, Westbrook has been steamrolling through the league and is one of the frontrunners to win this year’s regular-season MVP award. The seven-year veteran has been on such a tear that he’s averaged a triple-double — 33.2 points, 10.2 rebounds and 10.7 assists — in the 13 games the Thunder have played since the All-Star break.
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“The level that he’s playing at right now is something that you don’t see very often in the NBA on a consistent basis,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said after Sunday’s practice. “He’s virtually averaging a triple-double in the last 10 games.”
Westbrook has six triple-doubles in the past nine games, and plays with so much aggression and is constantly in attack mode. But because Westbrook has 31 turnovers over the past four games, the Mavs figure they need to take advantage of that weakness in his game and crowd him more often whenever he has the ball.
“He gets out of control at times,” center/forward Amar’e Stoudemire said. “So if we’re in the right positions and we get there early enough we can take advantage ... so we can use his energy against him.”
With 16 games remaining for the Thunder, Westbrook leads the NBA in scoring (27.4 points), is third in steals (2.1), fourth in assists (8.4), and averages 7.2 rebounds per game. He collected 36 points, 11 rebounds and six assists in Sunday’s 109-100 victory over the Chicago Bulls.
Carlisle believes he can devise the ideal scheme to slow down Westbrook.
“You’ve got to have everybody in the right position,” Carlisle said. “Otherwise, he’s going to come through you. You’ve got to throw crowds of people at him.”
And then hope for the best.
Carlisle isn’t sure if he’ll have forward Al-Farouq Aminu available for the Thunder.
Aminu missed Friday’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers after straining his left shoulder Tuesday against Cleveland. The Mavs did some contact work in practice Sunday, but Aminu didn’t do much of it.
“I can’t give you an exact for sure that he’s going to play, but he’s doing better,” Carlisle said. “So I think he’s getting close.”
“The other day we just didn’t feel like it was ready, so we’ll see. If he’s feeling like he can go tomorrow, he’ll go, and if he doesn’t, then RJ [Richard Jefferson] and Charlie [Villanueva] will have to fill in and get the job done.”
No watching standings
There’s a logjam in the Western Conference standings, but Carlisle insists that he only sees them once in a while.
“I’m an attention-on-my-team person,” Carlisle said. “We’ve got to control what we can control.
“Sometimes standings can distract you from the little things that are staring you in the face that you need to do on a daily basis to keep the team moving in the right direction. That’s where my concentration is.”
The Mavs and Los Angeles Clippers have 42-25 records. But the Clippers are seeded fifth and the Mavs sixth by virtue of their 2-1 edge over Dallas in head-to-head games.
Dwain Price, 817-390-7760