The Dallas Mavericks (12-16) have had three days to think about their worst loss of the season against the San Antonio Spurs. Hopefully, a 38 point drubbing will give the Mavericks something to prove against the Oklahoma City Thunder (21-6) Thursday night on national television.
The Thunder come into tonight's game having lost their last two against the Timberwolves and Heat, after having won 12 in a row. Dallas heads to OKC having lost six of their last seven, including their last three, all by double digit margins.
This is a trying time for Maverick fans. On one hand, we've seen 12 years of the team making the playoffs, including two finals appearances and one NBA Championship. On the other hand, these last two years we've seen the team teeter on the edge of a cliff and threaten to go off more the once. Dallas doesn't have a starting point guard as of this moment. The Mavericks are in the middle of their toughest stretch of games this season and they just suffered their largest defeat of the season.
But Dirk is back and with Dirk comes hope. Maybe we won't see his impact tonight, or even in any game soon as he builds back his legs and timing and figures out who all these guys are who weren't in Dallas uniforms last season.
Tonight, though, things do not get any easier. Facing the Thunder hasn't been an easy task any time this decade, and since beating them in the 2011 playoffs Dallas has gone 1-10 against the Thunder including preseason games and last season's playoff sweep. Lead by MVP candidate Kevin Durant, the Thunder are one of the best offensive teams in the NBA. Durant is turning in a ridiculous season, posting 28 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists, while shooting 52% from the field, 43% from beyond the arc, and 90% at the free throw line. His partner in crime, Russell Westbrook, is no slouch either, putting up 21 points, 8 assists, and five rebounds a game. Their front line is anchored by the ever-improving Serge Ibaka, who is averaging 14 points, 8 rebounds and a league leading 3 blocks per game.
Having lost two in a row for the first time this season, the Thunder will be looking to punish a flailing Maverick team. The match ups in this game clearly favor the Thunder. Carlisle has yet to select a starting point guard, though none of the Dallas options can contain the powerful and quick Westbrook. Thabo Sefolosha and Kevin Martin split time at the other guard position, with Thabo contributing defensive presense and Martin bringing a scoring spark off the bench. Either provides a challenge for O.J. Mayo, particularly Martin as Mayo has a tendency of lack focus defensively.
Since Dirk will probably not start for a few more games, expect Carlisle to start Dahntay Jones on Kevin Durant, with the smaller Marion on Ibaka and Chris Kaman on Kendrick Perkins. Why the Thunder play Perkins at all is a good question; just about any of their five man units minus Perkins outscore their opponents by a statistically significant margin. Kaman has the craftiness to get both Perkins and Ibaka into foul trouble if he elects to force the issue. But we all know Kaman loves his jumper and goes to it early and often when playing against a strong defender. Dirk will see his minutes and touches as well, but the Thunder boast two of the best Dirk defenders in the NBA in Ibaka and Nick Collison.
The Thunder boast the speed, power, youth, and team chemistry to pummel Dallas. And a fourth straight double digit loss is potentially in order tonight, but with Dirk back and some time to stew over an embarrassing loss, I hope for a fiery Dallas team. Though a win might be a long shot, seeing some pride and energy against a great NBA team would be a nice change of pace after these last three losses.
Join us here at Mavs Moneybal later tonight for the game thread!