With win number four under their belt and two nights of rest, tonight the Dallas Mavericks host the Oklahoma City Thunder looking for their first consecutive win of the season. Here are two things to watch for during tonight’s game.
Which Westbrook shows up?
Perhaps more than any team that underwent major personnel change this offseason, the Thunder have suffered from serious growing pains this season. Russell Westbrook managed to will himself all the way to regular season MVP last year, relying on sheer effort to compensate for a lackluster post-Durant roster. But this season, with the addition of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, Westbrook at times seems unsure of what to do with himself.
His shooting has been worse (and inconsistent) and the team struggled early on, winning just four of their first 11 games. But they seem to have pulled out of the tailspin lately. The team has earned several impressive wins in the last two weeks, including a decisive double-digit victory over the Golden State Warriors in which Westbrook dropped 34 points on 13-27 shooting.
Westbrook’s usage last season was a staggering 41.7 percent. This season, it’s a mere 32.2 percent, and while it can be tempting to attribute the team’s struggles to that change, it doesn’t seem to explain many of the team’s woes (his usage is nearly identical in their losses and their wins).
Rather, the team’s fate seems to rest on Westbrook’s shooting. Obviously the Thunder do well when its players make their shots, but neither George nor Anthony has a wilder swing in true shooting percentage between wins and losses than Westbrook, who has shot 43.8 percent in losses and 56.9 percent in wins. He struggled from inside but sank 3-of-5 from deep in their win over the Mavericks earlier this month.
Whether the Mavericks have a shot against a team that plays lock-down defense but struggles offensively depends in large part on Russell Westbrook.
Can the Mavericks make their threes?
Unfortunately for the Mavs, “lock-down defense” isn’t an exaggeration: the Thunder currently have the second stingiest defense in the NBA, behind the Boston Celtics. That presents an unfortunate challenge for the Mavericks’ offense, which can generously be described as sluggish.
Dallas doesn’t have a Russell Westbrook, a player who can power the team to victory nearly on his own. But the key to their wins so far this season (other than playing the Memphis Grizzlies) has been multiple players heating up from the perimeter, including an insane 6-of-8 three-point performance from Wesley Matthews against the Bucks.
That certainly won’t be easy tonight against a strong defense, but perimeter defense isn’t what separates the Thunder from the defensive pack (they’re ranked eighth overall in opponent three-point percentage). So if the Mavs can avoid the stifling OKC interior defense and focus on threes, they may have a shot.
How to watch
Tonight’s game tips off at 7:30pm Central on Fox Sports Southwest locally and on NBA League Pass outside of the Dallas area.