The Thunder's I-35 rivalry with the Mavericks has been a long documented, glorious affair. Both teams have taken playoff series from each other, and the overall series has been quite close, with Oklahoma City winning 11 times and Dallas winning 7 times. Last year's series was a complete sweep by the Thunder, but it involved two overtime games where the outcome was seriously in doubt.
Dallas' roster has changed a lot since last season's campaign, but the team definitely has made a marked change for the better. The signing of Jose Calderon has given the team the point guard that they've needed since Kidd's departure. His extremely high assist to turnover ratio should speak for itself. The Mavs also had to gamble a bit by bringing in risky players like Monta Ellis, Samuel Dalembert, and Dejuan Blair. So far, all three have impressed. Dalembert and Blair give out efficient numbers, with Blair being surprisingly effective at stealing the ball near the top of the key. Monta Ellis finally has some legitimate scoring bigs to keep help defenders off of him, so his offense is a lot more effective than usual.
Aside from the personnel differences, the most marked change in the Dallas Mavericks between this season and last season. Through their first four games, they're averaging 114.5 points. That's absolutely nothing to sneeze at. This team is extremely skilled at getting the ball up the floor quickly, and they're fond of letting a wing player leak out on a defensive set so he can be ready for the quick score. Even Dirk is getting into the act, setting up easily for transition threes.
On the Thunder's side of things, many are wondering if the team is setting up for a smaller lineup in the future. During Sunday's game against the Suns, Scott Brooks was so bold as to play all three of the team's point guards at one time. The resulting mismatches resulted in an offensively entertaining fourth quarter in which the Thunder dominated the opposition. He also wasn't afraid to play Kevin Durant at Power Forward during that time, and the Thunder weren't much worse for the wear.
If the Thunder are going to go smaller with more frequency, the most likely candidates to see their minutes cut are Kendrick Perkins and Steven Adams. Perkins has been his usual self this season, aside from a decent third quarter against the Timberwolves last Friday. Adams has been impressive on the boards, but he makes a lot of rookie mistakes and will need a lot of time to develop.
In terms of slumps, Serge Ibaka is shooting 27.5% on the year. Part of it is just that- a slump. He's simply not played like himself, and missed one too many wide-open shots. But Ibaka is also clearly looking to make himself into a guy who can create his own buckets, and it's simply not working. He takes a lot of unreliable hook shots, as well as occasionally driving into his defender like a guard. Both scenarios generally result in him putting up terrible shots. Honestly, he needs to get his regular game back in form before getting too fancy, because he's been a huge offensive liability so far.
Oh yeah, also, Russell Westbrook is back. His dymanic play opened a lot of doors for the Thunder's offense yesterday, and he proved himself to be an essential part of the team. I don't think we'll see him get more than 35 minutes in his first few games, but the wonders that he works for Oklahoma City's ball movement have been off-the-charts.
A big team weakness for the Thunder so far has been three point shooting. Reggie Jackson has been a huge culprit in this area, clanking a number of wide open threes that the opponents have readily given him. But the entire team can share the blame here. There's not a single player, aside from the 1 for 1 Nick Collison, who's shooting over 30% on the year. That's madness, and should be easily solved with Westbrook's defense-sucking presence. At least, I hope.
Anyway, I predict that tonight's game will be another one for the ages. Dallas are the Thunder's first legitimate opponents this season, they trap a lot, and they don't seem very concerned with defense. The Thunder gladly adjusted to that style of play against Phoenix, so I see no reason why the Thunder shouldn't try to do the same against Dallas here. Unless they slow it down and let Dirk work on Durant or get really hot from three, I don't think that Dallas can score as consistently as Oklahoma City can. But, heck, I could be wrong.
Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 111, Dallas Mavericks 108.
Who do you think is going to win tonight's game? Let us know in the poll and comments!
More from Welcome to Loud City:
- WTLC Daily Loud Links for November 6, 2013
- Zeb Talks This Week in the NBA on Phil Naessens
- Oklahoma City Thunder and the luxury tax: comments by NBA collective bargaining expert Jon Hamm
- Beyond The Arc: Thunder Weekly Awards For Oct. 30th - November 5th
- Dr. David Geier comments on the return of Russell Westbrook and his meniscus recovery