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3 things as the Mavericks try to keep the train rolling against the Thunder

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Don’t look down or you will fall out of the sky like Wile E. Coyote. Just keep running.

Dallas Mavericks v Oklahoma City Thunder Photo by Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images

After a January to forget, a revitalized Dallas Mavericks rolled through the month of February as one of the hottest teams in the league. As it stands, they’ve won eight of their last 10, tied for the second best stretch in the league. Only the 9-1 Brooklyn Nets have fared better. And, oh, who provided Brooklyn with their sole loss? That would be the Dallas Mavericks.

Things are looking up in Mav-land as the team aims to finish strong heading into the All Star break, and the last stop for that train comes Wednesday against the Thunder. This will mark the first time the teams have faced off this season (they’re slated to play all three game of their regular season series in the month of March), and while OKC has proven it has the capacity to beat solid teams who don’t bring their A games, they’re not the same Chris-Paul-powered underdogs they were last season. These days, OKC is the Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and friends show.

SGA is a great young player, to be sure, but if he’s the only thing standing between Dallas and a dub before the All-Star game, it’s imperative for the ninth-seed Mavericks to find a way to get out of OKC with a win.

Shoot away

Since February, seven different Mavericks’ players are shooting above league average from three. That’s raised their team three point shooting from a pre-February 1 mark of 32.8% to a much more respectable 39.1% — good for 10th in the NBA.

In the off season, the front office really seemed like they were making a concerted effort to solidify the team’s defensive shortcomings. That’s commendable. But it hasn’t really worked all that well yet. There may yet be time for this team to gel defensively as they build a real rapport they’ve been missing this season for a number of pandemic and nature-based reasons, but until then, if they can just keep shooting the absolute hell out of the ball, they’ll likely find a way to manage.

It’s not too early to think about tie breakers

Two and a half games separate the fifth through tenth seeds in the Western Conference. It never gets easier, does it? Well, with that in mind, as the halfway mark approaches, it’s not too early to start doing some back of the napkin seeding math. Conference games matter. Not quite as much as division games (all the more reason to root extra hard against current Southwest Division leader San Antonio Spurs), but in a playoff race as congested as this, you don’t want to leave potential advantages on the table.

Getting above .500 was reason for celebration, but against teams in the West, Dallas is still just 8-10. Not a lot of meat on that bone in terms of tie-breaking power. It makes winning games against teams like OKC even more crucial. What do I mean by “teams like OKC?” Frankly, and with no disrespect, Western teams that simply are not very good.

Little fires everywhere

Haven’t seen the show, but it seems an apt description of the Thunder’s approach to winning games. As mentioned, Gilgeous-Alexander is about as close to a consistent producer that OKC has. He can typically be counted on to get his points. In games where the Thunder come out on top, it’s not because one other player has a hot night. More often than not, it’s a bevy of players scoring between 10-20 points. As a matter of fact, in a confounding SGA-less upset win over the Bucks, the Thunder were powered on offense by… former Mavs great Justin Jackson’s 22 points on a perfect 4-of-4 from deep? Sure.

That’s to say, the Mavs can’t take any of these guys for granted. Dallas doesn’t have to be the second coming of the Grint N’ Grind Grizzlies, but they need to play well enough on the defensive end to avoid dying a death by 1,000 cuts.

How to watch

The game tips at 8:30 p.m. CT and can be watched on FSSW or NBA League Pass.