2012-2013 Game 48 Preview: Dallas is Back to Take on the Thunder

"I need somebody willing to get up before dawn, milk cows, work all day in the field, milk cows again, eat supper, then go to town and score 30 points against Dallas." So God made a small forward. - William Bennett Berry

With the Thunder stumbling to a 3-4 record over their past 7 games, any win would be a huge help towards their confidence. But just when they need a creampuff game to get them back on track after a terrible loss to Cleveland, in come the Dallas Mavericks.

2012-2013 NBA Season
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The Dallas Mavericks (20-27)
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The Oklahoma City Thunder (35-12)
February 4th, 2013
Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
7:00 PM CST
National Basketball Association Television, Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, Fox Sports Network Southwest
WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1), ESPN Radio 103.3 FM
Enemy Blogs: Mavs Moneyball, The Two Man Game
Previous Meetings: Dec 27, Jan 18 (Thunder Lead Season Series 2-0)
Injury Report: Chris Kaman (Out)
Probable Starters
Darren Collison PG Russell Westbrook
O.J. Mayo SG Thabo Sefolosha
Shawn Marion SF Kevin Durant
Dirk Nowitzki PF Serge Ibaka
Elton Brand C Kendrick Perkins

You can always count on the Thunder to make a normal Monday night seem great. With the Thunder stumbling to a 3-4 record over their past 7 games, any win would be a huge help towards their confidence. But just when they need a creampuff game to get them back on track after a terrible loss to Cleveland, in come the Dallas Mavericks.

Judging by their record, you wouldn't think the Mavericks to be that good. But after dealing with endless injuries, aging stars, and a whole host of issues, it's really amazing that they're only 7 games back of .500. They've only improved as the year has gone on though, and with Dirk hopefully returning for real tonight, it's only a matter of time before the Mavericks are a serious playoff contender.

Of course, the previous two paragraphs are irrelevant to tonight's game, save for the aftermath. Because this is Thunder-Mavericks. No matter the situation, it's almost a guarantee that any matchup between these two teams will be a humdinger.

Aside from the rivalry aspects of this matchup, the Mavericks really do have legitimate advantages. Dirk Nowitzki and Elton Brand work well inside against Ibaka and Perkins, because they can both bring them out of the paint and open up the offense. This allows guys who work well off the ball, like Vince Carter, to get inside. Moreover, the Thunder's tendency to pressure players who like to isolate, like O.J. Mayo, gives more opportunities to off-ball players. The only real downside for the Mavs is that Mayo has really struggled in both games against the Thunder, and could have been the key to victory on both occasions.

That being said, the Mavs really have to scrape and scrap to stay in lock-step with Oklahoma City. Shawn Marion is past the point where he can make a big impact on Kevin Durant's game, and the Mavericks use a rotating cast of defenders on him just to keep things fresh. It's usually to no avail, as Durant has been able to score 40 and 52 against the Mavs this year. The averse effect is that Durant can sometimes get noticeably taxed towards the end of games, and the offense suffers. In a game where both teams have huge offensive advantages, an offensive hiccup is usually the difference between victory and defeat.

The other big story tonight is Kevin Durant's health. He had to sit out a portion of the third and fourth quarter of Saturday's loss at Cleveland with a rib contusion, and looked noticeably limited in his return. He has been cleared to play tonight, but it remains to be seen whether he'll be in shape to drop 40+ points again tonight. Look for the usual suspects to step up.

In the end, some signs point to yet another Thunder loss, but I have confidence in them to pull this one out. As long as they keep the pace brisk and don't send the Mavs to the line too often, they should be get a sizable lead and hold on when the going gets tough. If something doesn't give soon, the Thunder could find themselves falling down the standings, which doesn't bode well for the playoffs.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 108, Dallas Mavericks 105.

If you are looking for tickets to upcoming games, you can find Oklahoma City Thunder tickets here.

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