Wednesday night, the Dallas Mavericks (19-42) host the Oklahoma City Thunder (35-27) in Dallas, trying to string together two consecutive home wins, after beating the Indiana Pacers on Monday. This will be the fourth and final matchup between the Mavericks and Thunder this season - and wouldn’t you know it, the Mavs lead the series 2-1 heading in to tonight’s tilt.
Dirk Nowitzki & Co. are 1-2 since returning from the all-star break, and though they still continue to go down swinging, the season has long been decided, and much of the attention will be about gathering momentum heading in to a very important off season. For the Thunder, they will be using the next month plus to lock in playoff positioning and fine tuning rotations for a major postseason push.
Two teams with vastly different short term goals. Here’s what you should be watching for tonight!
Nerlen Noel is still on the team
Hey guess what? Nerlens Noel is still a name on this roster. It was made known Tuesday afternoon that the young big man would be available for Wednesday’s game, the first time since he elected to have surgery early in the season. Here’s what Noel has to say about being back:
"I've just got to assert myself like I know how, and help this team on both sides of the court." @NerlensNoel3 could be back in action Wednesday night vs OKC!— Dallas Mavericks (@dallasmavs) February 27, 2018
There you have it. As vague and noncommittal as it’s always been.
Someday well in to the future maybe we’ll find out what happened from July 1st, 2017 through July 1st, 2018. The fact that we are 61 games in to this season and everything about Noel’s relationship with the team, both in the long and short term, is such a grey area is an indictment on everyone involved.
Noel has appeared in 18 games this season, and last played for the Mavs on November 22nd against Memphis, where he played under four minutes. The most playing time he’s had in a game this season was all the way back in game number two, October 20th, where he played 27 minutes. All this is to say, temper all expectations tonight.
DSJ shows up for Russ
It doesn’t show up in every game...yet, but every once in a while fans get to see Dennis Smith Jr. playing with a chip on his shoulder. On those nights everyone is treated to a young star rising, slowly taking over the game all over the offensive end. A few of those moments have happened against the Thunder - and specifically against Russell Westbrook, a guy who plays with a perpetual chip on his shoulder.
You’ll remember after the first time DSJ faced the Thunder (a loss), before conceding that Russ is a really good player he remarked, “I didn’t know he got that many calls”. Since then the rookie point guard has taken it to the Thunder. And though he hasn’t put up insane numbers, he’s found ways to effect all facets of the game, and has brought home two Ws. The last battle, Smith Jr. took over late in the fourth quarter to seal the win - giving fans a bright vision of the future Mavericks.
In three games against OKC Smith Jr. is averaging 16.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists. And of all teams he’s faced multiple times, he’s only shooting better from three against two others (Portland and New Orleans). Against the Thunder he’s shooting a very solid 42 percent from deep. Expect that chip to show up tonight in the AAC.
Talking about the tank in the room
There’s a large dividing line in Dallas between fans, media, staff, owners, etc...and that line is squarely on the benefits of positioning the team for the best possible draft spot. This is ultimately an argument for another day, another piece. But it’s on the minds of MFFLs every time the Mavs hit the floor. Heck, even when they don’t and any combination of Phoenix, Atlanta, Sacramento or Orlando is playing.
There are eight teams nearly deadlocked at the “top” of the tank rankings. The other night when the Mavericks exorcised some demons and beat the Pacers at home, they went from second to sixth in those rankings. You can love it or hate it, but it’s the reality of these final 21 games. Expect more scoreboard watching tonight when the Mavs hit the floor.
How to watch
Tip off is set for 7:30 pm CT, and can be watched on FSSW or NBA LeaguePass.