Thunder vs. Mavericks: Who's Got the Hot Hand? (2012 NBA Playoffs WCQF Game 2 Preview)

Hopefully the Thunder won't have to foul in order to stop plays like this tonight.

Records: The Dallas Mavericks (36-30) vs The Oklahoma City Thunder (47-19)

Time: 8:30 PM Central Daylight Time

Place: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

TV: Turner Network Television

Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1), ESPN 103.3 KESN-FM

Enemy Blog(s): Mavs Moneyball, The Two Man Game

Previous Matchup: Game 1 (Thunder Lead Series 1-0)

It seems like Game 1 was a very up and down game, fueled by great individual performances rather than a team strategy. Of course, teamwork had a huge part in the Thunder's win, but each team seemed to find a hot hand to go to at different times of the game. Jason Terry and Russell Westbrook killed it in the first half, while Dirk Nowitzki and James Harden were heroes of the late game. Not to be forgotten are guys like Jason Kidd, who had 7 steals, and Serge Ibaka, who had 5 blocks and 22 points.

Tonight, both teams will be looking for the guy who can give the team an extra spark. On the Mavs side of things, Carter, Kidd, and West all played badly offensively, while the Thunder saw Durant and Westbrook not necessarily fulfill their potential. I wouldn't put it past any of these guys to have a significant rebound in Game 2.

Lineup-wise, it will be interesting to see how often the Thunder go back to a small lineup, and whether Nazr Mohammed gets any minutes. The Mavericks have Lamar Odom on the inactive list and saw success while Dirkless against the Thunder's small lineup, so I wouldn't expect to see a huge change in strategy on their part.

It will also be interesting to see whether the Thunder will win the free throw battle tonight. The Mavs only averaged 19 attempts when facing the Thunder this season, while the Thunder averaged 31. In Game 1, Westbrook relied on his jumpers a lot more than he usually does, and Durant was firing up a lot of threes (which I credit to the defense of Shawn Marion). The Mavericks were doing their usual thing, but Dirk got a few more free throws than he usually does.

Shawn Marion was a bit of an anomaly for the Mavs in Game 1, taking advantage of some lax D from Kevin Durant. He was mainly a good three point shooter, but he hit a few mid-range shots as well. He scored above his average in three of the Mavs' four matchups with the Thunder this season, so expect the Mavs to continue exploiting him on offense.

Tonight's game will be critical. The Thunder only won Game 1 by the skin of their teeth, and given the history of these two teams, I wouldn't be surprised at all to see Dallas steal homecourt tonight. I'm not saying it's impossible for the Thunder to win in Dallas, but I seriously doubt they'll win Game 6, if it goes that far. So winning tonight and preserving homecourt will go a long way towards keeping this series under control.

But in the end, I just can't see the Thunder pulling it off. The Mavericks had too many cogs going in their favor last night, and the Thunder can't count on Ibaka to play consistently on a Game 1 level. Until we figure out how to open up Durant and Westbrook on offense and/or get more role players involved, the Thunder are sitting ducks.

Here's hoping I'm wrong! GO THUNDER!

Prediction: Dallas Mavericks 103, Oklahoma City Thunder 97

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