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Oklahoma City Thunder at Dallas Mavericks preview: Mavs aim to slow surging Westbrook, Thunder

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Pity the man who has to check Russell Westbrook right now.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The last time these two teams faced off in February, the Thunder only needed 12 points from reigning MVP Kevin Durant to secure an easy victory over the Mavs. Point guard Russell Westbrook, in the midst of a strong campaign for his own Podoloff trophy, absolutely roasted Dallas for 34 points on only 17 shots.

He put up averages of 31 points, 9 rebounds and 10 assists that month and he's only gotten better since the beginning of March. In five games so far, he's averaged a triple double as Durant has continued to sit with a sore foot. Fueled in large part by Westbrook's play, the Thunder have won 11 of their last 15 games and after a disastrous start to the season sit one game ahead of the Pelicans for the West's eighth playoff spot.

Dallas and Oklahoma City have split the teams' first two meetings this season with the Mavs winning the first about a week after trading for Rajon Rondo. But this isn't the same team Dallas faced in either of those first two meetings.

In addition to former disgruntled Cavalier Dion Waiters (who played in the last matchup), Thunder GM Sam Presti added center Enes Kanter from the Jazz as well as forward Kyle Singler and guard D.J. Augustin from the Pistons via deadline day deals.

Kanter has posted 15 points and more than 9 rebounds per game in 10 starts since arriving, while Augustin has scored 9 points per game off the bench on nearly 38 percent shooting from the three point line. Dallas probably still has a bad taste in its mouth from the Jan. 7 home loss in which Augustin, still with the Pistons, went off for 26 points.

The Mavs enter tonight's game hoping to build on Friday night's strong win against the Clippers, a 129-99 drubbing, after several days of rest. The blowout of Los Angeles followed the nadir of the season, a humiliating home loss to Cleveland that came within a week of two L's against Portland and Golden State that were never really close.

Things were so dark that this site declared this Dallas team is just not good. One win, no matter the score, is going to change those assessments but tonight's game could signal which team these Mavs really are.

So are there actual playoff implications for tonight's game?

For standings purposes, a win wouldn't necessarily be anymore significant than it was Friday--with only 15 left in the season, every game against another quality West team is arguably as important as the next. But with more than half their remaining games against playoff teams, now would be a good time to string together some quality wins and improve that 17-20 mark against squads playing .500 ball.

Will Rondo continue to exercise more freedom over the offense?

Other Mavs observers have noted Rondo appeared to play with more freedom against the Clippers, a sign of growing trust from Rick Carlisle. The point guard's postgame comments Friday seemed to suggest less predictable offensive sets helped against Los Angeles. If giving more control to Rondo will help the team unlock its offensive potential, Mavs fans can only hope that carries over to tonight's game.

Will Al-Farouq Aminu be able to impact the game defensively?

Before getting embarrassed by Cleveland last week, the one thing the Mavs had done well recently was play defense. Aminu played no small part in that, having posted a defensive rating of 97 in February and 91 in March before injuring his shoulder against the Cavs. Dallas didn't exactly miss Al-Farouq against the Clippers but if he's ready to go tonight his presence could be big against a team that's getting contributions from multiple positions.

Game Information

7:30 p.m. on FSSW