|2012-2013 NBA Season|
|January 18th, 2013|
|The American Airlines Center, Dallas, Texas|
|7:00 PM CST|
|Entertainment Sports Programming Network, Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, Fox Sports Network Southwest|
|WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1), ESPN Radio 103.3 FM|
|Mavs Moneyball, The Two Man Game,|
|Previous Meetings: Dec 27 (Thunder Lead Season Series 1-0)|
|Injury Report: Nick Collison (Questionable)|
|Russell Westbrook||PG||Darren Collison|
|Thabo Sefolosha||SG||O.J. Mayo|
|Kevin Durant||SF||Shawn Marion|
|Serge Ibaka||PF||Dirk Nowitzki|
|Kendrick Perkins||C||Chris Kaman|
If there was any doubt about Dirk's value to the Mavericks, then that has to have been erased by now. After the Mavericks nearly stumbled their way to the bottom of the Western Conference amid a whirlwind of different signings, the Mavericks have capably won four straight games. They're currently within four games of the playoffs, which is certainly achievable given that over half of the season is left.
Post-surgery, it's apparent that Dirk isn't in the prime of his career anymore. But a better question might be whether he really needs to be scoring 20-22 points a night. The Mavs are graced with more scorers than they have been in the past, with 6 players averaging over 10 points a game. If Dirk isn't feeling it on a particular night, he's got guys to defer to. His main value at this point is providing efficient scoring and stability in the post. With the Mavericks having given real minutes to guys like Eddy Curry and Troy Murphy, old Dirk is a lifesaver.
Of course, how well the Mavericks or Thunder are doing has mattered very little in this historic rivalry. I don't know if the players know it, but there's something that always keeps these teams playing at a similar level when they step on the court. A win here might as well be a playoff win, because the Mavericks are from TEXAS!!!!!!!
That aside, let's look at the basketball aspects of this matchup. The Thunder have been relying on Durant and Westbrook to be the kickstarters of their offense lately. I know that's been generally the case for as long as the Thunder have existed, but when I say this, I REALLY mean it. During the Nuggets game, the first half was almost 100% Durant and Westbrook, with a little bit of Kevin Martin dashed in. Our fourth highest scorer at the half was Hasheem Thabeet, with 3. The Suns game saw the dynamic duo combine for 77 of the team's 102 points. Against the Blazers, they had 51 of the team's 87 points. Normally, Durant and Westbrook combine for less than half of the team's points.
Though I definitely don't mind Westbrook and Durant kicking it into high gear, it could spell trouble against the Mavs. Shawn Marion has been one of the few NBA defenders that can cause problems for Durant on occasion, and Westbrook went 4-16 during regulation against the Mavericks this December. Moreover, they're definitely going to have to provide help on the defensive end (which they didn't do in December). Both Marion and Collison are capable of lighting up the scoreboard if you leave them open and sag off.
The most intriguing aspect of this game will be the Serge Ibaka/Dirk Nowitzki matchup. It's happened before, but we've never really seen a fully recovered Dirk go head to head with the Serge Ibaka that could shoot consistent mid-range jumpers. I feel like Dirk and Serge are nearing the exact point in their careers where they're equally good players. For now, Dirk is still better, but I feel like there's going to be one breakout game where Serge absolutely dominates. Tonight, I'd expect at least a bit of back-and-forth scoring from those two.
On the Mavs side of things, they'll definitely be hoping that O.J. Mayo can provide more than he did in the last matchup, where he only went 1-7 from the field. It wasn't really clear what was wrong with him that night. None of his isolation plays worked, and he took a few bad threes while remaining mostly quiet on offense. Personally, I think the Thunder are just really adept at guarding guys who like to isolate and try to create offense by drawing pressure. We've seen it in their domination of James Harden, and I'd argue that O.J. Mayo is a similar player.
One last note. Nick Collison is questionable for tonight's game with a sprained right ankle. If he doesn't play, it likely means more time for Thabeet. Otherwise, this could mean some Perry Jones action, but more than likely, the Thunder will just go small and use the additional defense DeAndre Liggins provides. The Mavs have legit bench scorers, so Liggins could help them out. But really, the main concern in Brand getting the best of Thabeet, which we're all hoping doesn't happen.
Anyway, tonight's game will be close, but given the Thunder's current 7 game win streak against the Mavs, the miracle it took to push the December game to overtime, and the current dominance of Westbrook and KD, I have to predict a win. Still, it wouldn't take a lot to swing this game in the Mavs' favor.
Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 109, Dallas Mavericks 104.