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Four-Pointer: Previewing the Oklahoma City Thunder

Mavs have a tough game tonight -- but they've beat this team before.

The biggest reason the Mavs used to beat the Thunder is that Shawn Marion used to play good defense on Kevin Durant. In the 2011 Western Conference Finals, for example, KD shot 7-of-22, 9-of-22 and 8-of-20 over the last three games of the series.

The fact that this has changed isn't exactly Marion's fault. It's the story of two players travelling in opposite directions in their careers. Sure, Marion has lost a step or two defensively (and has considerably less help than in 2011), but obviously the real story is Durant entering his prime. He hasn't exactly destroyed the Mavericks this season, with a 7-of-16 shooting night in November and an 8-of-20 night in the most recent games. But where the Slim Reaper was averaging 46% in 2011, he's shooting more than 50% from the floor this year and last year, which is particularly absurd when you think of how much of the team's offense he's been this year. He's the only player in the NBA besides Dirk capable of shooting at that level from that many places on the floor and obviously, of late, he does it better than Dirk.

But the real problem is that the Mavs also used to be able to stop Russell Westbrook, who returns tonight, but now that he has a mid-range jumper, and the Mavs have Ellis and Calderon instead of Kidd and, say, DeShawn, goodbye to all that. These offenses are both top of the top and the Mavs might be slightly better rounded--they'd seem, at least, to have the bench edge--but the reason the Thunder are cruising and the Mavs struggling comes down to the fact that Durant-Westbrook vs. Nowitzki-Ellis is more unequal than it has ever been. But our guys can still score with the best.

What has Oklahoma City done lately?

Well the good news is we know they sputtered against the Mavs as recently as March 16th. The bad news is they've won every other game they've had since March 11, including over Houston and Chicago. They've had a relatively easy schedule of late, but they've still won basically everyone---except for a hilarious two game span against Phoenix and the Lakers in which they allowed 41 points to Gerald Green, then 42 to Jodie Meeks.

Which Thunder player might be due for a big game?

Westbrook, I think. For some reason, and it's probably part of the reason he keeps going out for a little bit, Russ comes back from his injuries to show off just how athletic he is. Since Ellis and Calderon have a habit of making your Ramon Sessions look like your Chris Pauls, that is not the best news.

Which Mavericks player might be due for a big game?

God I hope it's Dirk. His play against OKC tends to depend on how they call the game--if they let Collison mug him, there's not much he can do.If they call it tight, there's not much Collison or Ibaka can do. But a bigger concern is how tired he's looked in the past few games. The Nets game looks like a statistical anomaly on paper, but it's felt like he's been dragging since the Minny game, where he went 0-7 from three and need an absurd (for him) 27 shots to net 27 points. In fact, it's four more shots than he's shot in any other game this season.

Hopefully the day off helped and hopefully good to go. Win or lose, Mavs fans will be able to breathe a lot more easily if Dirk looks like Dirk tonight.

Which team stat might determine the game?

Boards! The Mavs don't need to outboard the Thunder. If they needed to outboard teams they'd be in roughly 76ers territory right now. But since the Thunder are 2nd in the league in boards while the Mavs are 27th, it's a tale of two murderous offenses but ONE which is capable of feeding itself. The Mavs have to narrow that gap to have a chance.

In short, OKC obviously has the advantage here unless you think the Mavs' amazing defense holding them to 86 points wasn't a fluke. But it is still possible, offense on offense, for the Mavs to pull this out.