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3(ish) things to watch for as the Mavericks look to roll the Thunder

Is this a rivalry? It feels like a rivalry.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Utah Jazz Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

The Good Guys:

The Dallas Mavericks: 28 and 17, fifth in the Western Conference.

The Bad Guys:

The Oklahoma City Thunder: 28 and 19, seventh in the Western Conference.

Recent Activity:

Dallas is coming off of an absolute crusher against the Jazz. The Mavericks fell 112-107 in a game where they only trailed for 78 seconds.

Oklahoma City has won five straight games, with an average margin of victory of 12.4 points, to solidify their playoff positioning.

One Extremely Hot Take:

One out-of-nowhere player will score in double figures.

Here are a few things to keep an eye on:

Can Porzingis get it going?

Kristaps Porzingis has played three games since his extended absence due to knee pain/illness/something. In those games he’s averaged nearly 26 minutes per game, about five less than his season average. It’s good to have him back in the lineup, but we’re going to need all the minutes we can get out of him. Hopefully the drop in minutes is just to help his wind get back up to speed and not for any knee maintenance reasons.

In those 26 brisk minutes per game Porzingis has averaged 15 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal and 1.3 blocks. These raw numbers are fine, I guess, but the Mavericks are not any sort of real threat unless KP can play at least to the level he showed earlier this season. His shooting numbers will have to get better quickly or things could continue to be ugly. Porzingis is shooting sub-40 percent from the field since his return, and he has only been to the free throw line 8 total times in those three games. It’s probably too early to worry, but let’s hope things take a turn for the better, and lets hope Steven Adams doesn’t slam him through a folding table.

Might Cauley-Stein get some run?

New Maverick Willie Cauley-Stein met the team in OKC on Sunday. As of press time his status for the Thunder game is up in the air. He might not even be active, but based on this matchup, I think fans of the Mavericks would be thrilled to see him in uniform. Steven Adams, all 6’11” and 265 pounds of him, is a player that Dallas doesn’t truly have a good matchup for. Boban is huge, and Maxi works hard on everyone, but Willie “Trill is legally a part of his name so you don’t need to put it in quotes” Cauley-Stein has the size and mobility to theoretically guard a player like Adams.

If WCS doesn’t play, look for big man by committee from the Mavericks. Adams has had a strange year, dealing with injuries and generally just seeming far older than his actual 26 years, but he is still averaging about 11 and 10 on 60 percent shooting. Adams has only played legitimate starter minutes in two of Oklahoma City’s last seven games, missing three games entirely, so maybe Dallas will get lucky and not have to worry about Funaki Adams destroying worlds for 35 minutes.

The Kobe Stuff

I don’t think I’m equipped to talk about this. Meaning the big THIS; the everything. I have feelings, I have opinions—we all do. But who am I? There are plenty of people smarter than I am and more in-the-know than I am that have thoughts worth reading. Read Dirk’s post on twitter. Read Harrison Faigen’s piece on Silver Screen and Roll. Read Jackie Mac’s piece on ESPN.

But for the purposes of a preview post for a January game between the Dallas Mavericks and the Oklahoma City Thunder, here is what I have to say: Kobe Bryant influenced or affected every player that we will see on the floor tomorrow. Many of them knew him personally. Some probably even knew his daughter, Gianna. Playing in this game is going to really hurt for some of them. It will be therapy for others.

Expect tributes—some well thought out and some ham-handed. Expect to hear praises and maybe even some big complicated questions. Life is different for everybody, and grief tends to show up whenever it wants to. Expect to see some of that on the faces and bodies of these players tomorrow. Basketball is generally an escape from the real world, but tomorrow it may not feel like it. Even so, let’s do our best to enjoy it.

How to watch

The game tips at 7:00 PM Central and can be seen on FSSW and NBA League Pass for something like seven thousand dollars per year.