Dallas Mavericks (18-7, 9-4 road) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (12-11, 6-6 home)
Offensive Rating: Thunder – 104.9 (22nd), Mavericks – 108.0 (14th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 103.1 (6th), Mavericks – 102.8 (4th)
Pace: Thunder – 92.3 (19th), Mavericks – 92.3 (17th)
View from the enemy: The Two Man Game
National TV. A pretty important game. Dirk Nowitzki’s hair and headband. Yep, I’d say this is something to be excited about.
The big implications are there. Again, on ESPN for the whole world to see. The Thunder needs to stop a two-game losing streak (hasn’t had a three-game since Nov. 6). And a loss could drop OKC to .500 again, with the toughest stretch of the season looming. I’d say this is a big game. I know that’s crazy to say about a December tilt, but when you haven’t really had a game of any importance in the last couple years, a December game keeping you above .500 on national TV against a really good team qualifies as big. At least to me.
Dallas coming in has won four straight, with wins over Phoenix, Charlotte, Miami and New Orleans. Josh Howard’s return has really opened up things offensively and strenghtened the team defensively. The Mavs have been playing solid defense lately, allowing 100 points just once in their last six games and that was to the Suns.
Some Elias Game Notes:
- Last season, Kevin Durant (25.3 PPG), Jeff Green (16.5), and Russell Westbrook (15.3) became only the second trio of teammates, all age 22 or younger, each to average at least 15 points per game. The first was Paul Pierce, Antoine Walker, and Ron Mercer for the Celtics in 1998–1999.
- Kevin Durant averaged 20.3 points per game as a rookie, and he has increased his average in each of the two seasons since then, to 25.3 as a second-year player and 28.5 this season. If you’re looking for a player with a similar progression during his first three seasons in the NBA, the best you’ll find is Spencer Haywood: 20.6 in 1970–1971, then 26.2 and 29.2 in the following seasons.
- Over the last 25 years, only three players have posted a scoring average as high as Durant’s current mark (28.5 PPG) in their third season in the NBA: Michael Jordan (37.1 in 1986–1987), Shaquille O’Neal (29.3 in 1994–1995), and LeBron James (31.4 in 2005–2006).
- Kevin Durant has led the Thunder in scoring in each of his last 11 games, the longest current streak in the NBA.
- Kevin Durant’s streak of 44 consecutive free throws ended on Sunday night. That was the longest streak in the NBA this season. The last Sonics/Thunder player with a streak that long was Luke Ridnour, who made 53 straight foul shots in 2005 (Apr. 3–Nov. 18).
- Russell Westbrook registered the only triple-double of his NBA career the last time these teams met: 17 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists in a 96–87 win at Ford Center (March 2, 2009). Only three NBA players posted a triple-double at as young an age as Westbrook (20 years, 110 days): Magic Johnson (3 in 1979), Lamar Odom (1999), and LeBron James (3 in 2005).
- LeBron James scored 44 points against the Thunder on Sunday, and Carmelo Anthony scored 31 against them on Monday. That equaled the number of 30-point games against Oklahoma City over their first 21 games of the season. (Kobe Bryant and Monta Ellis both scored 31.)
Who can guard Dirk? Nick Collison? Jeff Green? Kevin Durant? You know who covered him the best last year? Malik Rose. Obviously Malik had a ton of experience doing it, but he did a fantastic job. He got up under Dirk a bunch and forced him to fade on every single jumper. Dirk couldn’t clear his elbows cleanly for a jumper and it affected him. I think Collison could have success, but I also think Serge Ibaka might do alright against the German. Ibaka has athleticism, length and some pretty good instincts. Plus, I’d love for Serge to get some experience guarding Dirk for, you know, the future.
Shawn Marion is a quality defender and could give Kevin Durant some issues, mainly because Marion is bigger than he looks and also plays pretty physical. Lately the Mavs have been starting both J.J. Barea and Jason Kidd together, so it’ll be interesting who gets what tonight between Thabo and Russell Westbrook. I’d imagine Thabo would go on Kidd, but I’d also imagine Kidd would guard Westbrook. Who knows.
Obviously the Dallas bench is loaded with Howard coming off it and Mr. Sixth Man, Jason Terry. Drew Gooden and Kris Humphries are the two big men Dallas has off the pine, and with Erick Dampier starting, I’d say if there was anywhere Dallas was thin, it’s their front line. The Thunder’s going to need production from Nick Collison and James Harden tonight to at least stay somewhat close to what Dallas’s bench puts up.
Again, I don’t want to overhype and overvalue this game because then it would feel like a letdown if OKC loses. And in a way, it will be. The TV, the team all wearing Kevin Durant’s new shoes, the crowd will have rally towels, the importance of staying above even – it just seems like the team should have a hunger tonight. Like I said, sometimes you can sense when OKC is overmatched. I don’t feel that way at all about Dallas. The Mavs are every bit as talented as the Nuggets, but I just see OKC matching up well with Dallas.
Tip at 7:00 CST. Go ESPN.