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Mavericks vs. Thunder preview: 3 things to watch for as Dallas takes on Oklahoma City

The Mavericks look to bounce back against the Thunder.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Mavericks are back at it again for the second day in a row, hosting the Oklahoma City Thunder Saturday night in Dallas. They’ll be looking for a bounce back win after losing to the Memphis Grizzlies Friday night.

The Thunder were a surprise last season, making the play-in tournament to close the season. They didn’t make it to the playoffs, but they announced the fact they were a team to be taken seriously. And this season, they’ve picked up right where they left off. They’ve been hanging as a top four seed all year, and they’re unlikely to go anywhere anytime soon.

The Mavericks are in the same neighborhood, rocketing to the top of the Western Conference standings early in the season, but now hovering in that top four seed area with the Thunder. They’ll likely be jockeying for position all season, and that’s what makes any matchup with Oklahoma City important.

Here are three things to watch for during the game:

Luka vs. Shia

About 18 months ago I had dreams of the Mavericks somehow teaming up Luka Doncic with Shia Gilgeous-Alexander. Then Gilgeous-Alexander took a leap and became one of the five best players in the league last year, and that dream died. There’s no way the Thunder are parting ways with him now.

This will be the first matchup between Doncic and Gilgeous-Alexander this season (if Doncic plays—no word on that as of yet). If the Thunder continue to lurk in the top four of the West all season and it’s because of Oklahoma City’s superstar guard, he’ll be in the conversation with Doncic for MVP at the end of the year. Head to head games will matter if only for the narrative. Hopefully we’ll get to see a shootout between two of the best point guards in the NBA that ends in a Mavericks win.

OKC’s inverted pick-and-roll

The Thunder will present a difficult problem for the Mavericks on defense. They’ll likely park a big man like Chet Holmgren or Jalen Williams in the corner to occupy Dereck Lively II. This’ll cause Lively to have to make decisions about helping in the lane or staying on his man in the corner.

Meanwhile, OKC will put the ball in Isaiah Joe or Jalen Williams’ hands at the top of the arc and send Gilgeous-Alexander to set a screen. Or they’ll do the same but with Josh Giddy as the ball handler and Joe setting the screen. They’ll have Holmgren or Jalen Williams start off on the block, then take off through the lane to the 3-point line at the same time these screens are happening. The Thunder big men can shoot from there, so they’ll pull their defender with them.

All this action between the Thunder guards means the Mavericks guards, especially Doncic and Kyrie Irving, will need to communicate on defense. This has been a problem for the Mavericks this year. In fact, the Dallas defense has been struggling all season. They’ll need to be focused to navigate the tricky Thunder offense, especially on the second night of a back-to-back.

Grab offensive boards early and often

The Thunder are dead last in the NBA in offensive rebounds per game, only averaging 7.9 per game. The Mavericks typically struggle on the offensive glass, but they average 10 offensive rebounds per game. If they can’t win the offensive rebound game against the Thunder, there’s probably no hope, and they’ll more than likely lose this game. Lively, Richaun Holmes, and Dwight Powell have to be aggressive when crashing the glass Saturday night.

How to watch

The game tips off at 8 p.m. CST on Bally Sports Soutwest.