OKLAHOMA CITY — Every game means something at this time of the year in the Western Conference. With 10 teams vying for a spot in the playoffs or looking to improve its position, each outing can affect a team’s season.
Oklahoma City knew the importance when they took the court against I-35 rival Dallas, who was within striking distance in the Western Conference standings. Despite the sense of urgency, the Thunder’s lack of any semblance of defense cost them Wednesday as they fell 135-131 to the Mavericks at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
The Mavs (46-29) pushed their lead over the Thunder (42-33) to four games for seventh place in the West. Despite the loss, Oklahoma City keeps its hold on eighth place, but the players know they let an opportunity get away.
“It was definitely a real tough loss,” Thunder center Enes Kanter said. “We are playing for something. We are trying to get a playoff spot. It hurt us. But we just can’t sit here and worry about it. We have a game Friday in Memphis. That will be tough, too. They are not going to feel sorry for us.”
Guard Monts Ellis paced Dallas with 26 points. Dirk Nowitzki and Amar’e Stoudemire each posted 18 points. Anthony Morrow led all scorers with 32 points and hit six of nine 3-point attempts. Russell Westbrook posted 31 points, 11 assists and 11 rebounds for his 10th triple-double of the season. Kanter scored a career-high 30 points and grabbed a game-high 16 rebounds.
Nowitzki turned the ball over with 41 seconds left and Dallas ahead by three. Westbrook hurried up court and was fouled driving to the basket. The ensuing free throws cut the margin to one point.
The Mavericks put the ball into the hands of Parsons, who popped in a fade-away jumper to push the advantage to 134-131.
“Just trying to make some big plays down the stretch for our team,” said Parsons, who scored 13 of his 22 points in the fourth.
“We all know how important this game was. We needed this win in a bad way,” he said.
Trying to get a foul call, Westbrook took an off balance 3-pointer at the top of the key. His shot was off, but he got his own rebound and raced to the corner, where he put up another tough 3-pointer. It was short, and the Mavs got the rebound. Ellis sealed the win by making one of two free throws.
Dallas shot 61.5 percent from the field and turned the ball over only six times. Oklahoma City hit 48.4 percent of its shots and gave the ball away 11 times.
“Having only six turnovers is very impressive,” Parsons said. “That’s been one of our big problems all year long. We were definitely more solid tonight. Especially against a team like OKC.”
Kanter punished Dallas to start the contest. While he did most of his work in the paint, he found time to step back and drain his first 3-pointer of the season. His 15 points in the first quarter is the best by any Thunder player not named Westbrook or Kevin Durant since the franchise moved to Oklahoma City.
Despite the Mavericks having no answer for Kanter, they held a three-point lead after the first quarter. Seven players had at least two points in the opening 12 minutes. The Mavs kept Kanter and Westbrook at bay in the second period. That opened the door for the now hot-shooting Morrow. He poured in 17 points on 6-of-7 shooting in the quarter. Yet, once again, it was Dallas who ended the half on top. The Oklahoma City defense allowed the Mavs to get any type of shot they wanted as they trailed 66-63.
“I think they had 72 points in the paint,” coach Scott Brooks said. “That’s ridiculous.”