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3 things to watch for as the Mavericks match up against the Thunder

After a hard fought loss last night, Dallas doesn’t have an easier test tonight.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

After coming thisclose to securing win number three last night, the Mavs will try again tonight against Russell Westbrook and the 5-7 Oklahoma City Thunder. The Mavericks will of course be on the second night of a back to back, so you almost want to book this as a schedule loss and go on and otherwise enjoy your Sunday evening. Here are a few reasons why you should tune in.

Nerlens Noel’s minutes

It’s a story of conflicting opinions in Dallas as to why Noel received a DNP-CD last night. According to head coach Rick Carlisle, it was about matchups, and Salah Mejri earned the limited true center minutes over Noel in a tough matchup against the Cavaliers’ Kevin Love. But Noel maintains he’s had good practices and has stayed ready. Josh Bowe has some excellent extended analysis here.

All that pushed aside, with Devin Harris likely out with an injury sustained in last night’s game, and Noel having fresh legs, I’d look for him to get some extended minutes tonight. Just a gut feeling, really. But you do have to wonder if there’s more than meets the eye in this situation between player and team who can’t seem to get on the same page.

Who wins the rebounding battle?

Both the Mavericks and Thunder rank in the bottom 10 in rebounding, with OKC some how coming in at dead last in defensive rebounds per game. The Thunder do outpace the Mavericks on the offensive glass, ranking in the top 10 oddly enough.

Rebounds have been a key part of the recipe in each of the Maverick victories this season and an obvious point in all Dallas defeats. Keep a close eye on whether the Mavericks can slow the Thunder on the offensive boards; if they’re able to do so, expect Dallas to hang around.

Dennis Smith, Jr. versus Russell Westbrook

With the talent the Thunder have on the wings with Carmelo Anthony and Paul George, Dallas cannot afford to have Wesley Matthews match up on Russell Westbrook. That leaves Dennis Smith, who is playing his best basketball of the season as of late.

Smith’s goals should be simple: on offense, look to exploit the often overzealous Westbrook by getting into the lane and making the correct play. Defensively, Smith needs to have one eye on Westbrook at all times. Without the ball Westbrook can be aimless for plays at a time but he has a ferocious eye for attacking the offensive glass. Smith needs to have his head on a swivel at all times in what should be his toughest challenge as a pro to date.

How to watch

We have an early tip tonight, at 6:00 p.m. Central. You can catch the game on Fox Sports Southwest or NBA League Pass