Some observations from staff writer John Rohde during the Thunder's 103-93 loss to Dallas on Monday night inside Oklahoma City Arena:
*At the end of the game, Mavericks reserve guard Jason Terry stood center stage and waved both arms above his head, pleading for more boos from what remained of the sellout crowd, which he received. Standing next to Terry was Caron Butler, who at the final buzzer slammed the ball hard to the court with one hand.
Perhaps a rivalry is brewing between the teams, but the Thunder went 0-2 on its home court this season against the Mavericks, who convincingly showed who was boss at the end of both games. Their final meeting this season is just nine days away in Dallas.
*A fan seated in the front row along the Thunder bench gave Terry an earful the entire game, a tactic which obviously backfired with Terry scoring 11 of his 13 points in the final quarter. The fan left early. Two suggestions: 1. If you dish it out, be man enough to accept the final result. At least stay until the end of the game. 2. Don't go after an explosive player like Terry. Next time, pick on somebody like Alexis Ajinca or Brendan Haywood.
*Thunder reserve forward Nick Collison took his 20th charge in his 23rd game of the season, and a fan has posted a sign on the top row of Section 106 to track Collison's season total. The sign reads â€œNick Collision.â€ Trouble is, the number remained at 19 after Collison took a charge late in the first quarter. The sign is commendable, but if you're going to keep a running total, keep it updated. Isn't that kind of the point?
At halftime, the Collison sign was replaced with one reading â€œKD for all (star sign).â€
*Dallas star Dirk Nowitzki twisted his right knee with 9:10 remaining in the second quarter and did not return. Nowitzki actually tripped himself on the play, stepping on his left foot and rolling his right ankle, which twisted his right knee in the process. Nowitzki was not touched during the shot itself and the fans booed, but Serge Ibaka was whistled for a foul before the actual attempt.
*Sign in Section 110, long after Nowitzki had left. â€œDirk, willst du mich heiraten?â€ Translation: â€œDirk, will you marry me?â€
*Mavericks assistant Dwane Casey filled in for coach Rick Carlisle, who missed the game following knee surgery last week. Casey was reserved and soft-spoken during his pregame interview session but was standing and shouting like a mad man the entire contest.
â€œThere's a big difference between making suggestions and decisions,â€ Casey said before the game. â€œRick does a great job of pushing the right buttons. If I had a rookie team doing this, I'd be as nervous as you-know-what.â€
Casey looked plenty nervous anyway, though he's no stranger to being in charge. He previously served as head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves, going 43-59 from 2005-07.
WESTBROOK IS OK
Thunder starting point guard Russell Westbrook hit the floor hard late in the game and left with a stinger in his right elbow, which already was protected with a padded sleeve. Afterward, Thunder coach Scott Brooks said Westbrook was â€œfine.â€ He was expected to be able to practice Tuesday morning.
DIRK'S STATUS UNKNOWN
The prognosis on Nowitzki's knee injury was unknown shortly after the game. â€œI'm not sure,â€ Casey said. â€œI don't think it was anything serious, but we are just taking precautions and making sure he is going to be OK before we bring him back.â€
When Nowitzki left, Dallas was shooting 57.1 percent from the field. It finished at 48.8 percent.
Brooks said his team's approach did not change after Nowitzki left.
â€œNo, not at all,â€ Brooks said. â€œThey're a deep team. They have their record (at) 24-5 because they have a group of talented guys that play well. Dirk is not the only guy on their team. He's a terrific player, and he's one of the best players, but he's not the only guy on their team.â€
Durant agreed and said: â€œThey still have a lot of weapons. It's more than just Dirk. They played tough, man, and you've got to give them credit for making big shots."
Kevin Durant finished with a game-high 28 points. Going into Monday night's game, he was averaging 18.7 points and shooting 37.4 percent from the field in his 11 previous meetings against Dallas, which are his second-lowest averages against an opponent (Orlando 17.6 and 37.0 percent).
Casey essentially serves as the Mavs' defensive coordinator. Asked what the key is to defending Durant, Casey jokingly said: â€œIf I knew, I'd tell you, but I'd have to shoot you. â€¦ He's one of the toughest covers in the NBA. As soon as he walks into the arena, the rim is open to him.â€
Dallas does what many opponents attempt to do against Durant, which is use multiple defenders, multiple looks and multiple defenses.
â€œOne guy doesn't stop him,â€ Casey said. â€œThe key thing is you don't want to send so much attention to him that now (James) Harden goes off for 25 or 30, and there's (Russell) Westbrook getting 25 or whatever, and then there's Jeff Green. They're one of the toughest trios in the whole league, and we know that. We know we're not going to shut all his water off. We just want to let it slow drip a little bit.â€
Dallas (24-5) does not lose often, and when it does, it hasn't been by much. Four of the Mavs' five losses had been by one, two, four and five points.
Amazingly, the Mavericks are 11-1 on the road, with that lone loss being a 99-97 setback at New Orleans. Even more surprising is that Dallas has lost four times at home â€“ to Memphis, Denver, Chicago and Milwaukee.
Casey was a member of the 1978 national championship team at Kentucky and served as an assistant at Kentucky under former Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton (1985-89).
One of Casey's fellow assistants with the Mavs is former Oklahoma player Terry Stotts. Playfully asked if Stotts might still have some personal feelings toward Oklahoma City, Casey smiled and said: â€œTerry's an Oklahoma guy. Loves Oklahoma, follows them religiously. I told him when they get their fifth national championship like Kentucky, then come talk to me.â€
Television ratings for the Thunder's game against Denver on Christmas Day were up 27 percent from last year's ESPN game in the same time slot (L.A. Clippers vs. Phoenix). The game had a 1.4 fast national rating. In Oklahoma City, the game registered a 4.1 metered market rating.
The Miami-Lakers game had a 6.4 rating; Boston-Orlando was 4.6, Chicago-New York was 2.7 and Portland-Golden State was 1.3.
Other local market ratings included a 15.5 in Miami, the highest-rated regular-season game ever on ABC. Los Angeles was at 15.0 on ABC; Orlando at 8.0 on ABC; New York at 4.2 on ESPN; and Portland at 3.0 on ESPN.
â€œI love it. Dallas is number one, and OKC is a close second as far as the best fans in the NBA. It's unbelievable. They are here early, and they stay late. They cheer, and they're just unbelievable. It's great to know that in a small market like this you have diehard fans, and they are some of the best.â€ â€“ Terry