|2013-2014 NBA Season|
|March 16th, 2014|
|Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma|
|6:00 PM Central Standard Time|
|TV: Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, Fox Sports Network Southwest|
|Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM/640 AM), 103.3 FM ESPN|
|Injury Report: Kendrick Perkins (Out), Thabo Sefolosha (Out), Jae Crowder (Questionable)|
|Previous Matchups: Nov 6th (Thunder Lead Season Series 1-0)|
|Jose Calderon||PG||Russell Westbrook|
|Monta Ellis||SG||Perry Jones III|
|Shawn Marion||SF||Kevin Durant|
|Dirk Nowitzki||PF||Serge Ibaka|
|Samuel Dalembert||C||Steven Adams|
|2013/14 Advanced Stats|
|96.2 (15th)||Pace||98.0 (9th)|
|108.4 (T-3rd)||ORtg||107.9 (6th)|
|105.3 (23rd)||DRtg||100.4 (4th)|
Nobody seems to be afraid if the Dallas Mavericks.
You can't really blame anyone for it, either. All of the other teams in the lower part of the Western Conference playoff picture all seem to have some sort of edge. The Grizzlies are a veteran team that's been deep in the post-season before, with a fearsome defense and inside attack. The Warriors are an team that perfectly intertwines young talent with veteran leadership, and hold the keys to this generation's greatest shooter. Even the Suns have an appealing storyline, with lots of unexpected faces showing up for big performances.
Meanwhile, the Mavericks are just the same song and dance that we've seen for years. A borderline ancient Dirk leads the charge, while unpopular guard Monta Ellis supplements him. For most, the problem begins there. Dirk and Monta are some of the most offensively inconsistent players that you'll find. I mean, they'll sometimes have nearly perfect nights from the floor, but those will be matched by nights where both of them are shooting in the 30s. Their averages work out, but on the nights where those two aren't there to carry the offense, the team falls apart.
Really, the Mavs should never have been this successful in the first place. Despite deep pockets, Mark Cuban has failed to lure a superstar to the market in recent years, leaving him to cobble together a team around the loyal Dirk. This left them in quite the pickle, since Dirk alone doesn't make the team an appealing destination. They ended up gambling on Monta Ellis, a skilled scorer who was mostly known for never passing the ball. They counterbalanced that gamble by investing money in the steady Jose Calderon, a solid point guard who's known for taking especially good care of the ball.
These three form quite the offensive triumvirate. Calderon spaces the perimeter with a mean shot, while Dirk and Monta run a really sick pick and roll attack. Monta's ability to get to the rim combined with Dirk's unstoppable mid-range shot really gives defenses a headache. But whether it works really depends on where Monta and Dirk happen to fall that night, and the team's defense isn't good enough to carry them through most games. Thus, the team relies on a wildly inconsistent offensive attack, slaying giant on one night and cowering before mice on the next.
Another problem with these Mavericks is coaching style. Rick Carlisle is basically the exact opposite of Scott Brooks. While Brooks rarely changes his lineups and gives players very defined roles from the get go, Carlisle will switch players in and out faster than you can say "Salami!". The rotation changes significantly from game-to-game, as do the lineups. Carlisle does define roles for his players, but those can adjust as the season rolls on. The result of this system is a team that can beat anybody but also lose to anybody. If they had enough talent or were focused towards a specific team type, that might work.
But, in this Western Conference, it's just hard to make your way. To be fair, the Mavericks would be a mid-level seed on a normal playoff year, and Carlisle has done a great job making do with what he has. But there's a definite reason that no one finds this Mavs team intimidating. They simply can't put it together on a high level consistently enough.
Anyway, history says that the Thunder are going to beat the Mavericks tonight. They've won the last 11 straight games, including the 2012 first round playoff series. The record is rather unusual, especially considering that the Thunder were 6-11 against the Mavericks up until this streak happened. Honestly, I'd chalk the streak up to a combination of luck, the lack of a real strategic advantage for the Mavericks, and the generally higher quality play of the Thunder. The Mavs have given the Thunder a run for their money on several occasions, and sometimes it's taken all of KD's heroics to pull the Thunder out of a serious hole.
Looking back on this season specifically, the Thunder and Mavs have only played once so far. It was a rather forgettable affair, coming very early in the season when Russ was recovering from his second knee surgery. The Thunder cruised to victory on the back of a really strong bench performance, along with an unprecedented 28 team assists.
However, I wouldn't expect the same thing to happen tonight. The Mavericks are a much more well-rehearsed team than they were back then, and they need every single win that they can get. Furthermore, they're one of the league's best teams at acquiring and moving the ball, so I don't think the Thunder are going to be able to beat them in those areas every single night. Rather, the key lies in rebounding. Dirk and Dalembert will start the game together, but Carlisle is fond of playing either of them at center and moving Shawn Marion to power forward. Luckily, the Mavericks are too old to constantly burn the Thunder with speed, like the Suns might do. But they will be offensively solvent, and the only real way for the Thunder to counteract that is by consistently dominating the boards. The Mavs are one of the league's worst teams in that area, and it's the perfect opportunity for guys like Ibaka and Durant to feast inside.
Of course, the Thunder will still win tonight. Shawn Marion has proven himself capable of slowing down KD, but the Mavs have no defensive answer for Russell Westbrook or Serge Ibaka. Westbrook is a lot more athletic than Calderon, and Ibaka is too mobile for Dirk to keep up with him. It's always possible that these dudes will have off-nights, but I'm not betting on it.
Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 111, Dallas Mavericks 109.
What do you think of tonight's game? Let us know in the comments!