Records: The Dallas Mavericks (57-25) vs The Oklahoma City Thunder (55-27)
Series: Game 1, Game 2 (Series tied 1-1)
Time: 8:00 PM Central Daylight Time
Place: Oklahoma City Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1), ESPN 103.3 KESN-FM
Enemy Blog(s): Mavs Moneyball, The Two Man Game
The Thunder were once again greeted with a warm welcome when they returned home, and they will need the fans behind them tonight at OKC Arena. Dallas has lost its home court advantage as well as sustained a chink in its armor. Previously the Mavs had won seven in a row, including a sweep of the defending champion Lakers. We know that they have the fortitude and resolve to work through short-comings (witness the Game Four collapse against the Trail Blazers) and they have the veterans who have seen practically every possible scenario.
I think there are four keys to the Thunder winning their first game at home:
1. Start the game with better defense.
The Thunder got back to their winning formula by holding the Mavericks to under 30 points in quarters 2-4, but in the first the Thunder gave up 31, which once again put them in a hole. While better defense in the 4th is preferable to defense in the 1st, I would like to think that the Thunder can avoid a lot of headaches by being a little bit more focused after the opening tip.
2. Watch for when Jason Kidd guards Kevin Durant.
There were two primary defenders on Durant - Deshawn Stevenson and Kidd. They actually had a reasonable bit of success, using their strength and guile to make Durant work hard. Surprisingly, it was Kidd that had the most success against Durant in limited opportunities. He used his smarts, footwork, and quick hands to keep Durant off-balance, and Durant never was able to generate offense while being guarded by the smaller Kidd.
This time out, when Kidd plays Durant I think the Thunder need to attack it with a bit more purpose. Instead of having Durant set up at 18 feet out, he can better utilize his height by starting at about 10 feet. That way, Kidd is less likely to be able to steal the ball or manipulate Durant into a bad possession.
3. Look for the big men to score.
One of the keys to the Thunder's holding on to win in the end was some assertion on offense by Nick Collison. Twice he took the ball hard to the rim and drew fouls late in the game. I still think the Thunder are missing an offensive opportunity by not running some plays to get either Collison or Serge Ibaka open for mid-range jump shots. It would work marvels for their offensive spacing if the Thunder could pull Tyson Chandler or Brendan Haywood away from the rim and get Russell Westbrook a better lane to attack the basket.
4. Continue to fight.
The biggest turnaround in Game Two was the Thunder's willingness to fight for every inch. They did not give Dirk Nowitzki an easy time on the post, as Dirk seldom had the opportunity to square up and take the jumper. Instead, he was forced to go to his dribble drive move to get his offense. Granted, this method still worked well, as Dirk had 16 in the 4th quarter alone. However, by him taking this initiative, it limits what the rest of the offense can do through him. I think the Thunder will continue to try to body up to him on the perimeter and force Dirk to put the ball on the floor.
Likewise, the Thunder also did a great job challenging the open shooters. Jose Barea is still problematic, but aside from him the open looks for Kidd, Peja Stojakovic, and Jason Terry shot a combined 10-25. Shooters don't like to be pushed, crowded, or made to fight through screens, so if the Thunder can continue to challenge the Mavs physically, I think they will get similar results.
Prediction: Thunder 100, Mavericks 95