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Mavericks vs. Thunder: Pregame Primer

Mavericks vs. Thunder: Pregame Primer



Mavericks (22-17, 11-10 road) vs. Thunder (27-12, 17-5 home)

TV: FSOklahoma
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 1300 AM The Buzz Tulsa)
Time: 7:00 PM CST

Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats)

  • Offensive Rating: Thunder – 109.3 (2nd), Mavericks – 103.7 (8th)
    Defensive Rating: Thunder – 101.0 (11th), Mavericks – 102.0 (15th)

I’ll be honest with you: This regular season sucks. The losses are gut-wrenching, but the wins….the wins are even worse. They always come with caveats and self-doubt. We beat the Spurs, but it was the first game of the season and the Spurs were still trying to acclimate all of their pieces. We beat the Clippers in LA, but, hey, its the Clippers (and the chemistry-killing Blake Griffin played, so there’s that). We beat the Orlando Magic in double OT on the road after being down by as many as 18 in the 4th quarter, but why the hell were we down by 18 to the Magic in the 4th quarter. We beat the Kings at home after being down by 7 with 3 minutes left, but why the hell did we allow a 12 point 4th quarter lead to dissipate in that game. We beat the Lakers and Timberwolves by only 9 points combined in our last two victories. The Lakers and Timberwolves…By 9. Combined.

Because of Kevin Durant’s impending free agency, every game is micro-dissected to the point where games are no longer enjoyable. In a season where the Thunder have the fourth best record in the league, it almost feels like last season’s record at this point was better. In case you were wondering, the Thunder were 19-20 at this same juncture last season.

Durant is out there looking tired. Or disinterested. Or frustrated. Or all three. Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams, the Thunder’s starting front court, are grabbing only 31.6% of the possible defensive boards available to them while on the floor. For comparison’s sake, Tim Duncan and LaMarcus Aldridge grab 48% of the possible defensive boards afforded to them. Russell Westbrook seems to have reached a point in his development where it appears difficult for him to sometimes co-exist with Durant on the court, especially in crunchtime. And our shooting guard position is the soup du jour of topic conversations. And that’s just the starting line-up.

Will it get better? I don’t know. This team has two excruciating pressures on it: the win-now attitude and the cloudy future of its superstar/franchise cornerstone. The great unknown is whether one necessitates the other. But I’ve always felt like the Thunder were always one game away from putting it all together. Whether that game is tonight or another night is the reason I keep watching the games.

Series History

This is the 2nd of four meetings between the Thunder and Mavericks. The Thunder won the first meeting 117-114, when the Thunder were without Durant. In the game, Westbrook led 6 Thunder players in double figures with 31 points.

The Opponent

The Mavericks come into the game with a 22-17 record, coming off an overtime loss against Cleveland last night. As the season has progressed, the Mavericks have gotten healthier and their record has shown that. They’ve won 7 of their last 11, and are beating quality teams in the process (Warriors, Bulls, Kings).

While the Mavs have changed a lot of their personnel over the years, their success is still predicated on the production from Dirk Nowitzki. He is having one of his most efficient seasons, shooting nearly 40% from three while still averaging 17.7 points. Zaza Pachulia is a double-double waiting to happen. Chandler Parsons and Wes Matthews are progressing from their injuries this offseason, and both players appear to be getting back to their old selves. The point guard platoon of Deron Williams, JJ Barea, Raymond Felton, and Devin Harris seems to somehow be working. And Javale McGee appears to be gaining traction on his comeback back into the NBA.

3 Big Things

1.Line-up Uncertainty

It is still unknown what the Mavericks will do with their line-up at this point. Last time they played a back to back, they rested Nowitzki, Williams, Pachulia, and Matthews on the 2nd night after playing a high scoring, back and forth affair against the Sacramento Kings the night before. With the Mavs coming off an overtime game in which 4 of their 5 starters played 38 minutes or more, Dallas may choose to rest some of their players for this game. In addition, they have a busy schedule coming up with 4 games in the next 6 nights against playoff teams. At the same time, this game may have future playoff implications, so the Mavs may choose to play their starters while limiting their minutes.

This is also the 2nd night of a back to back for the Thunder, but since Durant and co. aren’t “19 year vets” or “39 years of age”, they’ll all be playing in this game.

2. 3-point Defense

The Mavericks attempt the 6th most 3-point FG attempts in the league at 28.1 attempts per game, while making 9.6 of those attempts. This has been a big issue for the Thunder of late, and Dallas is not a team to allow to get off from deep. If Nowitzki plays, I could see a scenario where the Thunder play small with Durant guarding Nowitzki.

3. Russell Westbrook

The stable of Mavericks point guards all have problems guarding Westbrook. If the Mavs are smart, they’ll hide their point guard on Andre Roberson, while playing Matthews on Westbrook. But if they stay with their typical defensive assignments, I see a 30+ point game for Westbrook.

Thunder Killer – Opposing player most likely to have a breakout game against the Thunder:

Wes Matthews – It’s easy to say Nowitzki, but a lot of our defensive attention will be focused on Nowitzki. Matthews, on the other hand, has the ability to get hot from deep quickly as the defense collapses on Nowitzki or on one of the Mavs’ driving point guards.