Thunder put five-game win streak on line against Mavs

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The last time Dallas visited Oklahoma City, the Mavericks led most of the way before Chris Paul caught fire, scoring 13 points in the final 4:31 to lift the Thunder to a come-from-behind victory on Dec. 31.

Going into Monday night’s rematch between the teams in Oklahoma City, Dallas is still trying to figure out how to win tight games, especially on the road.

The Mavericks have plenty of impressive road wins — at Milwaukee, the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver among them. But Dallas has struggled late in close games.

Of the Mavericks’ 17 losses, 12 have come by five points or fewer or in overtime.

“I think we’re still learning how to play under high pressure,” Dallas forward Kristaps Porzingis told the Dallas Morning News after yet another close Mavericks loss Saturday night in Utah. “And that’s what happens in these close games, especially on the road.”

That was a sentiment echoed by Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle.

“We’ve got a young team that’s getting experience in these kinds of hostile environments,” Carlisle said. “And you know we’re going to learn from this and we’ve got to get better.”

Dallas comes into Monday’s game having won five of its last seven, though the wins have come by an average of 13 points.

The Thunder have won five consecutive games and 22 of their last 30.

While Dallas has struggled in close games late, Oklahoma City has thrived.

The Thunder have played more games than any team in the league in clutch situations — games where the margin is five points or fewer in the final five minutes. Oklahoma City is 20-12 in such situations, including a handful of comebacks similar to the one against the Mavericks to end 2019.

“It’s been a special team,” Paul said. “Given the situation night-in, night-out, unsure of who’s going to play, we just step up and we don’t really care.”

While Oklahoma City got Steven Adams back Saturday after the starting center had missed two games with a sprained ankle, he struggled in his 23 minutes.

He was held scoreless for just the second time this season — the other was against Houston on Jan. 20 when Adams suffered the ankle injury in the opening two minutes and didn’t return. He also had just one rebound, his fewest this season with the exception of that game against the Rockets.

The Thunder have plenty of uncertainty elsewhere in the lineup.

Forward Danilo Gallinari missed Saturday’s game with a left thumb injury. It’s unclear whether he’ll be available Monday. Guard Terrance Ferguson has missed five consecutive games for personal seasons.

Nerlens Noel, Adams’ backup in the middle, has been dealing with an ankle injury of his own but missed Saturday’s game after undergoing surgery to repair a cheek fracture that occurred in Friday’s win over Atlanta. Noel’s timetable for return is unclear.

–Field Level Media

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