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3 things to watch for as the Dallas Mavericks host the Oklahoma City Thunder

The Mavericks look to bounce back from a tough loss.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Orlando Magic Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Mavericks (29-22) had a couple days off to recover from a tough stretch of games and will take on the Oklahoma City Thunder (15-34) tonight at the AAC in Dallas. The Mavericks are looking to shake off a close loss to the Orlando Magic Sunday night, while the Thunder are fresh off a win against the Portland Trail Blazers Monday night.

This will be the teams’ fourth and final meeting of the season. Dallas has won the previous three matchups. Two of those three they won handily, while the last game in January was a nail-biter the Mavericks won 104-102.

The Mavericks will be missing Kristaps Porzingis (right knee bone bruise) and Tim Hardaway Jr. (broken left foot). The Thunder will be without Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (right ankle sprain).

Here are three things to watch for during the game:

The Mavericks need to get to the line — and make their free throws

The Thunder don’t let opponents get to the charity stripe. Opponents only shoot 19.3 free throws per game against the Thunder, the fourth fewest in the league. But when the Mavericks defeated them in their late January meeting, the Mavericks shot 28 free throws. Luka Doncic shot 14 on his own. For a team that struggles at times on offense, getting easy points at the line will be key to a victory. Dallas shouldn’t settle for midrange jumpers or contested free throws, and instead should focus on getting to the rim and forcing the Thunder to make plays at the rim without fouling.

Continue to suffocate the Thunder on defense

The Mavericks have held the Thunder under 100 points in two of their three games this year. They’ve done so in a variety of ways. They kept the Thunder off the free throw line. They’ve limited the Thunder to 33% shooting from behind the arc. That’s not terrible, but the Mavericks have kept the Thunder from catching fire from deep.

Dallas averaged eight steals and 11 forced turnovers per game against the Thunder this year. The Mavericks have stifled Oklahoma City in almost every way. The Thunder just don’t have a player who can take over a game and beat defenders one-on-one on a consistent basis. Gilgeous-Alexander is the closest they have, and isolation scoring just isn’t his game. If the Mavericks continue to play the quality defense they’ve shown in 2022, they should have no problem shutting down the Thunder again.

Dominate the offensive boards battle

So far this season, the Mavericks have a plus-13 edge on the Thunder in offensive rebounds. That’s led to a plus-11 advantage in second chance points. Again, Dallas struggles to score at times, so they need to attack any margin they can. The Thunder are 20th in the NBA at allowing opponents second chance points at 13.4 per game. The Mavericks, however, are next to last in the league in capitalizing on second chance points with 10.3 per game. Dallas has had two days off. They need to be aggressive on the boards and when they grab offensive rebounds, make them count.

How to watch

Tip off is at 7:30 p.m. CST. The game can be seen on Bally Sports Southwest and NBA League Pass.