The Dallas Mavericks (20-27) are looking to get to 2-2 on the final leg of this four game road trip by defeating the Oklahoma City Thunder (35-12). This will be the third game in the season series, with Dallas having lost both previous encounters, each in over time.
It's odd, each time the Mavs have gone against OKC this season, I've personally gone into each game terrified Dallas might somehow run into the meat grinder that is the Thunder offense. And yet each time Dallas comes out fighting, playing the Thunder as well as they've played any team this season. Will tonight be any different?
I have a sneaky feeling this game will be a blow out. Obviously I hope I'm wrong, but this road trip has been plagued by mistake-ridden basketball. The Thunder have shown Dallas twice already that they are ready and willing to capitalize on any and all mistakes if you give them the opportunity.
Specifically, I'm concerned with Russell Westbrook. Though he's played decent (by his lofty standards) in the two previous encounters (23.5 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds), he hasn't shot the ball well, just 41%. This is purely anecdotal, but I also feel as if he hasn't killed the Mavericks the way his counterpart Kevin Durant has. Darren Collison, who has a hard time standing in front of anyone, has done surprisingly well on his old UCLA teammate. I hope he keeps taking the fight to him.
Thabo Sefolosha has been an unheralded hero in the previous two Mav-Thunder matchups. He's held O.J. Mayo to 11 points per game and a shooting percentage of just over 30%. Mayo's relative ineffectiveness has been a huge reason why Dallas has lost both games and if the Mavs hope to steal one on the road, they need a great game from Mayo.
Moving to the small forward spot, stopping Kevin Durant is an exercise in futility. Shawn Marion has done an admirable job (along with the rest of the Mavericks team) in trying to keep the MVP candidate from destroying them. It hasn't worked. In the previous two games, Durant has averaged 46 points per game, including 15 and a half free throws attempted. In the second game, Durant exploded for the league's first 50 point game of the season, scoring 52. He actually had a poor shooting night, all things considered, but lived at the free throw line, taking and making 21 shots. Dallas had simply better hope he's off tonight.
According to Earl Sneed, Dirk's going to try to play tonight. I have no idea what an adductor is, so how it effects his game is beyond me. Dirk's managed to shoot 8 for 30 against the Thunder this year, a testament to how good Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison are on defense and how poorly Dirk's played this year as he comes back from injury. I have a feeling he shoots better tonight, but he'll also need to play some defense this game. Folks like to argue with me because they feel like I'm slandering our hero, but Dirk's been an awful rebounder and defender this year. As in worse than normal. He needs to be better.
As of this writing the status of Chris Kaman is unclear. I assume Bernard James will get the start again against Kendrick Perkins. Why Perkins even plays is bizarre, but perhaps it has to do with his sterling ability to set moving screens. I assume we'll see cross match ups when Dallas is on defense, with James keeping track of Ibaka and Dirk sticking with Perkins. When OKC goes "small" with Ibaka and Collison Dallas might be in a bit of trouble.
Vince Carter may be sick tonight, which would be a huge loss for Dallas. His scoring and play making off the bench have kept Dallas alive in many games this year. If he's out... well I have no idea what Dallas does when the teams go to the bench. Elton Brand has been great, but he needs a ball handler who can set him up. Seeing the back up point guard minutes will be worth watching too, since Carlisle opted to go with Mike James over Rodrigue Beaubois. Personally, I'd like to see Roddy get time. His length irritates the crap out of the mercurial Westbrook.
The Thunder bench is fantastic, even if it's short most games. Kevin Martin, Collison, and DeAndre Liggens give Thunder coach Scott Brooks a variety of options to throw at teams, depending on the situation.
The Mavericks will have to bring their A+ game if they want to win tonight. The past few games, they've given it just about everything and still come up short. A loss tonight would be brutal, sending the playoff hopeful Mavs home with a 1-3 record on an important road trip. Let's go get them, Mavericks.