Dallas Mavericks (14-15 road) vs. OKC Thunder (14-45, 10-20 home)
TV: FS Oklahoma (Cox 37, HD 722) OR NBA TV (Cox 256)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM)
Time: 7:00 CST
Offensive Rating: Thunder: 103.7 (28th), Mavericks: 109.0 (10th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder: 110.1 (22nd), Mavericks: 107.1 (13th)
Pace: Thunder: 94.0 (7th), Mavericks: 92.0 (14th)
These two teams locked up just three nights ago so there’s really not a whole lot new to talk about. Except Kevin Durant is still out. And now Jeff Green is too. And Robert Swift played a little for the first time in over a month Saturday. And Jason Terry is back for the Mavs. But other than that, it’s pretty much the same matchup.
Nick Collison will be replacing Green in the starting lineup, so the OKC first five will likely be Westbrook, Weaver, Sefolosha, Collison and Krstic. And off the bench the Thunder’s got Robert Swift who played some decent minutes Saturday, Earl Watson, Malik Rose, Rumble and Chucky Atkins. Yikes.
But in a weird, twisted way, this game could be huge for the Thunder. How? Because tonight, Russell Westbrook has to be The Man. Not only will he be called upon to score a little (which he’s done well without KD – 33 and 25 in his last two) but more importantly since he will be The Man tonight, the Mavs are going to lock on him and he’s going to have to get his teammates involved. Not that he didn’t do that before, because he does, but he’s really, really going to have to create and distribute and score tonight.
Common sense says the Thunder has no chance tonight. Obviously. But I expect OKC to play a really good defensive game because frankly, that’s really the best chance the Thunder has. Collison, Krstic and Malik Rose are going to have to do something – anything – to slow Dirk down (87 points in two games against OKC). Add Jason Terry to the mix and Dallas now has a legit second scorer to go with Dirk. The Thunder dodged a bullet last time because Josh Howard was in foul trouble and didn’t play well. But with no KD and no Uncle Jeff, points may be tough to come by. So what that means is that OKC has to play solid defense. And if Thabo’s last effort on Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo was any taste, I think there’s a chance for the team to do such a thing.
But back to Russell. If the Thunder’s going to hang tough tonight, I’m thinking he’s going to need a line that looks something like 24 points on 7-12 shooting, 10 assists, six rebounds and under three turnovers. Westbrook scored big the last two games but wasn’t all that efficient, taking 47 shots to get his 58 points. He’s going to need to score, but he can’t be hoisting bad jumpers all night either. Jeff Green and Kevin Durant combine for about 43 points a game, which is about 44 percent of OKC’s points. So that means guys like Kyle Weaver, Thabo, Krstic, Collison and even Swift are going to have to all chip in and score 7-8 more points than they normally would. Or one guy goes off and covers everyone. Whatever. Just somebody is going to have to elevate his game. And Russell Westbrook is going to be directly involved in that one way or the other.
Despite the Thunder being down its two main guns and likely having no chance, they’re going to go ahead and play the game tonight regardless. Which is good because maybe Rumble gets hot off the bench and drops 30. Because that’s probably what it will take for OKC to win this one. But Dallas is below average on the road (14-15 away from AAC) and may be overlooking OKC for obvious reasons. And sometimes when a team has to pull the all hands on deck card, they play harder and better to make up for their fallen teammates. At least that’s what we’ll have to hope for.