Thunder (40-16, 15-9 road) vs. Mavericks (30-27, 16-11 home)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 1300 AM The Buzz Tulsa)
Time: 7:30 PM CST
Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats)
- Offensive Rating: Thunder – 109.7 (2nd), Mavericks – 103.7 (9th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 102.0 (11th), Mavericks – 103.3 (17th)
Sometimes you just have to call a spade a spade. The Oklahoma City Thunder are a very good team. I just don’t know if I can call them a great team. They have two great players, that is for certain. But as a collective, they are only good. Sometimes their great players carry them to great heights, but against other great teams, the Thunder struggle to keep up with the No. 3-8 players on a other team’s roster.
Sunday’s game was very strange. It started off great with the Thunder sticking to their team ball offense. Tristan Thompson struggled with the “pick your poison” decision that was either staying with Adams or switching over to stop Russell Westbrook. Because of this, the Thunder found Adams four times in that first quarter for 9 total points. Unfortunately, Adams would finish the game with 9 points.
And therein lies part of the problem for the Thunder. Yes, by most metrics, the Thunder are a great offensive team. The combination of Kevin Durant and Westbrook is a beast for other teams to contain. And with all the attention those two players garner, other players have enough space to be effective on the offensive end. Serge Ibaka has made a career of the pick and pop that is generated with either Durant or Westbrook. The Adams/Westbrook pick and roll is becoming the thing of legends. And Andre Roberson is shooting over one 3-point shot a game (Yay!). But the problem with the Thunder offense is that it usually stops after the 1st quarter.
The Thunder did a great job of moving the ball around in the first quarter against the Cavaliers. They kept the Cavaliers defense guessing and usually found the open man for a high percentage shot. But once that first quarter ended and the Thunder bench gave up the lead, the Thunder starters looked almost panicky as they made their ways back into the game by the middle of the 2nd quarter. And when the word panicky comes up for the Thunder, it usually translates to iso-ball from Durant and Westbrook on the offensive end.
Was the defense a huge issue for the Thunder? YES! A 1,500 word article can be written on the atrocities on that end of the court for the Thunder in that game. But for a team that prides itself on its offense, their inconsistencies between whether they want to be a heavy ball-movement team or an iso team continues to baffle me. And the great teams in the league are starting to notice. Get the Thunder down early or keep the game close enough, and eventually, the Thunder will revert back to the security blanket that is isolation basketball.
This is the fourth and final regular season meeting between the Thunder and Mavericks. The Thunder have swept the season series up to this point, winning two of the games by 3 points, and blowing the Mavericks out in the other one. In the second meeting of the season, a spat between Westbrook and JJ Barea led to Westbrook getting ejected a couple minutes before halftime. The Thunder played the first meeting without Durant, who was out with a strained hamstring, while Dallas sat all their starters for the 2nd meeting. The only game in which both teams were at full strength was the last meeting, which the Thunder held on to win 109-106, as Dirk Nowitzki’s wide open game-tying 3-point attempt clanked off the side of the rim.
The Mavericks come into the game with a 30-27 record, tied with the Portland Trailblazers for 6th place in the Western Conference. They’ve lost 5 of their last 7 games, with 3 of those losses being by 6 points or less. The problem with them lies on the defensive end, as they give up 101.8 points per game, but score only 101.4 points per game. The athleticism Wes Matthews lost when he tore his Achilles last season presents itself most on the defensive end of the ball. With all that said, though, he is still their best perimeter defender. Up front is where the problem lies. Dirk Nowitzki, Zaza Pachulia, and Dwight Powell will never be mistaken for being shot-blockers and/or paint defenders. Javale McGee used to have the athleticism to be that, but injuries have also taken away his ability to consistently block shots.
The forward tandem of Nowitzki and Chandler Parsons continues to be the most consistent offensive threat for the Mavs. Parsons has elevated his scoring output every month this season and is currently scoring 18 points per game in February. What running backs are to OU football, point guards are to Dallas Mavericks basketball. They consistently play 4 points guards in their rotation (Deron Williams, JJ Barea, Devin Harris, and Raymond Felton) and each point guard has a different role. David Lee will be available for the Mavs in this game, after signing with Dallas for the remainder of the season on Monday. They are a veteran-laden team that likely won’t beat itself, but also one that usually doesn’t have the firepower to keep up with the league’s elite teams.
3 Big Things1. Perimeter Defense
This may seem like a constant theme on the 3 Big Things section, but perimeter defense is tantamount when playing the Mavericks. They attempt the 6th most 3-point attempts in the league at 25.7 attempts per game. While they don’t make them at a high clip (34%), the law of averages dictates that they are bound to have a high percentage game soon.2. Andre Roberson
Hopefully he will play tonight (maybe even start). It is the hope of every Thunder fan that the return of Roberson will right the ship and bring the Thunder back to where they belong defensively.3. Get off the Schneid
The Thunder usually do a good job of bouncing back after losses. That wasn’t the case on Sunday. Hopefully this negative trend does not continue.
JJ Barea – You know, I should be happy for the success of my fellow countrymen. He’s beat all the odds to make it and flourish in a league dominated by giants. He’s married to a Miss Universe. I mean, I should be waving my Puerto Rican flag around and yellling, “Wepa!” every time we play the Mavericks. But I can’t. The guy just irks me. The damage he does to the Thunder when he plays them dumbfounds me. How can a guy that short get a shot up under all those trees? The only true Puerto Rican in the league, and like Westbrook, he gets on my damn nerves.