Thunder (41-31, 14-21 road) vs. Mavericks (31-41, 21-17 home)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 930 AM (Spanish))
Time: 7:30 PM CST
Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats)
- Offensive Rating: Thunder – 105.4 (15th), Mavericks – 103.7 (22nd)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 105.5 (12th), Mavericks – 105.7 (15th)
If you want the deciding factor in the MVP match-up between Russell Westbrook and James Harden, focus all your attention away from them and look at the others. No, not LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard. Instead, look at the teammates for the two MVP candidates. Lou Williams came off the bench and scored 31 for the Rockets on 7-8 shooting from deep. Trevor Ariza started the festivities off by going 3-3 from deep in the first quarter to set the tone, finishing with 24 for the game. Eric Gordon spaced his contributions out throughout the entire game and finished with 24 points on 4-9 shooting from deep. And to top it off, Nene came off the bench to give the Rockets 17 points in the post to balance out all the shenanigans going on in the perimeter. That’s 96 points from four players other than Harden.
On the other side of the coin, Enes Kanter came off the bench to give the Oklahoma City Thunder a much need boost, providing 23 points in his 23 minutes. Taj Gibson had an efficient game, pumping in 12 points on 6-7 shooting, but only played 17 minutes. Victor Oladipo put up 15 points, but only shot 6-15. And Steven Adams put up 11 points, going (surprisingly!) 5-6 from the free throw line.
And that was game. Those four Rocket players gave Harden 96 points with which to operate, while the four Thunder players outside of Westbrook only gave him 61 points to work with. Hence the reason why Westbrook needed to score 18 points in the 4th quarter to give the Thunder some semblance of a chance to even be remotely in the game. And this is not just a one game thing. This scenario has played itself out the entire season. The top 5 players under Harden give him 69.1 points per game. The top 5 players under Westbrook give him 59 points to work with. While a ten point difference may not seem like much, ask yourself this: Outside of Oladipo and, maybe, Kanter, who else on the Thunder team could put up 24 points in a game? So far this season, the Rockets have had 8 players not named Harden score at least that much in a game.
The P in MVP stands for player. It does not stand for GM. It does not stand for coach. While Daryl Morey may have put together a better squad for Harden this season, that doesn’t mean that Harden has been the most valuable. While Mike D’Antoni was made to coach Harden and his bevy of three-point shooters, that doesn’t mean that Harden should take home the MVP. The title of Most Valuable should belong to Westbrook. Take him off the Thunder and they are battling Brooklyn and the Lakers for the number 1 pick in the draft. Take Harden off the Rockets and they are battling for the 8th spot in the West. So if you base the award on value to the team, Westbrook should take it almost unanimously.
Season Series Summary
This is the third and final meeting of the season between the Thunder and Mavs. The two teams have split their previous meetings, with the home team coming out the victor in each of the contests.
Three Big Things
Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle started the game off small the last time these two teams met, and the Thunder never found their defensive rhythm. For a team that struggles keeping people out the paint anyways, this was “Level 8, final boss” difficult for the Thunder. It was basically four guards and Dirk Nowitzki. With the PF having to guard a wing and Steven Adams being pulled out to the perimeter by Nowitzki, the middle was wide open for the Mavs’ guards to either lay it up or drive and dish to an open shooter on the perimeter. Then, when Nerlens Noel came into the game, the middle was wide open for him to be a roller in pick and roll situations. Donovan sat a bit too long on the starting line-up in their last meeting. While a starting line-up change is out of the question, a quick substitution may be necessary if the Mavericks pull the same strategy in this game.
2. Attacking Guards
If the Mavericks are going play small, Westbrook and Oladipo have got to make them pay by attacking the paint. Westbrook decimates teams that lack an interior presence, and outside of Noel (1.2 blocks per game), the Mavericks have no one that can protect the paint. Salah Mejri is the Maverick’s only other center, but he only sees about 12 minutes a game. Not only does Westbrook have to attack, but so does Oladipo, whose evolution into a stand-still shooter has been very baffling. For someone with the athletic gifts of Oladipo, he should be averaging more than 2.3 free throw attempts per game.
The Thunder have to efficiently control the pace of this game. The Thunder are 7th in the league at pace, at 100.63. The Mavericks, on the other hand, are 29th at 94. In their last meeting, the Mavericks only turned the ball over 8 times, which completed stunted the Thunder’s transition attack. The Thunder are going to need to force at least double digit turnovers to get any type of return on their transition game.