The Dallas Mavericks will host the Oklahoma City Thunder tonight. This match-up may lack the off-court drama of Tuesday's preseason opener against the Houston Rockets, and we'll be missing Dirk and a number of Thunder players, but given the talent on both teams, it should be as fun to watch as any preseason game. And good news for Mavericks fans outside of the Dallas area: this one will be on NBA TV!
What did the Thunder do over the summer?
Unlike our new-look Mavs, the Thunder begin this season much as they ended the last. They bade farewell to Derek Fisher, who's now the head coach of the New York Knicks, and Thabo Sefalosha, who was sent to the Atlanta Hawks in a sign-and-trade involving European player rights and some cash. Losing both these players created a hole at shooting guard, so over the summer OKC signed journeyman shooting guard Anthony Morrow and brought Andre Roberson up from their D-League affiliate. They also drafted rookie forward Mitch McGary, but most of the 2013-14 starters will likely retain their positions, with some uncertainty around the position of starting shooting guard.
What have they done lately?
Mostly negotiate injuries. The Thunder lost their preseason opener to the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday, with starting big men Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka, along with back-up Nick Collison, out with injuries and Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook playing limited minutes. That left plenty of time for newcomer Mitch McGary to impress in his NBA debut, but he unfortunately suffered a fractured foot that will keep him out for the next few weeks.
Who might be due for a big game?
Rosters are pretty much a done deal for both the Mavericks and the Thunder, and their starting line-ups are largely fixed, but we can expect this game to serve as part of the ongoing auditions for both teams' backcourt.
The Mavericks have an abundance of point guards, and these preseason games should help Rick Carlisle figure out how Raymond Felton, Jameer Nelson, Devin Harris, and Gal Mekel fit into the rotation. The Thunder are looking to make a similar determination at shooting guard. In Denver, Andre Roberson got the start, with Jeremy Lamb coming off the bench. Look for plenty of minutes from those two, along with Morrow and Reggie Jackson.
Although Serge Ibaka is expected to play tonight after missing Wednesday's game, Perkins and Collison will remain on the sidelines, joined now by McGary. Second year center Steven Adams had an excellent rookie season, and these injuries should allow him plenty of time to continue to shine.
What do the Mavs need to do to be successful against the Thunder?
Dallas came out of last season with a winning record against the Thunder, taking the last two of their three games against OKC on the road, but despite some exciting offseason moves by the Mavericks, it's still tough to argue that the Mavericks are the superior team in this match-up, mostly because the Thunder still employ Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka. But preseason games are nearly impossible to predict, with both teams being stingy with their stars' minutes, nursing injuries more cautiously than they would during the regular season, and sometimes focusing primarily on giving new players a chance to acclimate to the offense.
Last season, the Mavericks earned their two victories against the short-handed Thunder on big games from Vince Carter and Shawn Marion and from Dirk and Jose Calderon, none of whom will be on the court tonight. But if the Mavericks are able to give OKC a run for their money going forward, it'll be thanks to an improved defense helmed by Tyson Chandler, Dirk Nowitzki's continued defiance of Father Time, and an offensive boost from Chandler Parsons.