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Thunder vs. Mavericks: Ahead by a Nose or a Lap? (2012 NBA Playoffs WCQF Game 3 Preview)

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Pass the ball Jet, KD is open!
Pass the ball Jet, KD is open!

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 Matchups: Game 1, Game 2 (Thunder Lead Series 2-0)

You can see this series in one of two ways. Yes, the Thunder are up by two games and have taken care of home court. But the Mavs have a two game homestand ahead of them, and the last two games were decided in the final seconds. Thus, the question remains: Is this a sweep, a seven game series, or something in-between?

That question is going to be answered tonight. The Mavericks can come out and make a huge statement with a win, protecting their home court. At the same time, a loss is pretty much dooming them to devastation and a lost season. But, the truth is, the Thunder are ahead by two games, regardless of where the games are played or how close the previous results were. After all, NBA courts are made to standard specifications, aren't they?

Tonight will also be a critical game concerning how the series is going to take shape. The first game in this series was fast-paced, and saw the Mavericks find success with small lineups, while the Thunder found offense in the most unlikely of places. Dirk didn't have a great game early on, but quickly recovered in the second half. Game 2 was much more of a grind, with the contest lasting three hours. Kevin Durant was smothered by Shawn Marion, and both teams had to rely on cheap tactics to keep the game going.

How tonight shapes up will pretty much lay the cards out on the table, and answer our questions about the series. Will Westbrook, Durant, and Nowitzki continue to find success against their defensive foils? Can Marion continue his offensive success? Will the Thunder continue to find scoring in unlikely places? Can Kendrick Perkins exploit Brendan Haywood? Will James Harden ever bring back the headband?

Anyway, expect tonight's game to either be a blowout or another heart stopper. Given the Thunder's inherent disadvantages against the Mavs, I just can't see the Mavs laying down and dying here. But the Mavericks have just lost two close games and are in front of their home crowd, so in terms of a huge win on their part, anything is possible.

Prediction: Dallas Mavericks 109, Oklahoma City Thunder 93