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Shorthanded Thunder brace for evolving Mavericks

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Perk and Reggie are gone, and the Thunder have 10 healthy players. But that might be a good thing....

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Plotting our demise!
Plotting our demise!
William Bennett Berry

Right before today's 2 PM Central standard time trade deadline, the Thunder pulled the trigger on a deal. You can find all the details on the deal here. But the short of it is that the Thunder will no longer have Reggie Jackson, Kendrick Perkins, Ish Smith, or Grant Jerrett tonight. Combined with the injury to Steven Adams, that leaves the Thunder with 10 healthy players for tonight.

Of the 10 healthy players, 7 of them have been steadily in the rotation. Westbrook, Durant, Ibaka, Waiters, Collison, Morrow, and Roberson can all expect to get their usual minutes. The four players without regular roles are Perry Jones III, Mitch McGary, and Jeremy Lamb. Brooks will have to use at least one of these players, and could opt to use all three. Given that Lamb and Jones are going to likely spend the rest of the season on the bench, I think it's likely that Brooks lets Waiters and Durant run the point temporarily. Meanwhile, McGary could sop up the eighth man's minutes.

Obviously, the biggest issue the Thunder are likely to deal with tonight is turnovers. Even if Lamb gets time, it's a given that OKC will have to play roughly 8-10 minutes without a natural PG. That can lead to other teams pressuring the ball a lot, or possibly goading Westbrook into expending his energy.

Defensively, the Thunder have always focused on pressuring Dallas into giving up the ball. It didn't work last December, as Dallas is good enough of a passing team to avoid most of the Thunder double teams. Now, the Thunder are without Jackson and Perkins, two of the most trap-happy players on the entire roster. I think OKC will be just a bit better about staying on their man tonight, and that might lead to some better results overall.

Dirk isn't the centerpiece of Dallas' offense anymore, as Monta Ellis has emerged as the more effective scorer this season. But Nowitzki will be critical against the Thunder tonight. Dirk tied his season high of 30 points last time he played against the Thunder, and has a history of better than average numbers against OKC's front line. But now that OKC has lost the slow-footed Kendrick Perkins, they might actually do a better job of guarding Dirk. Dirk is more of a spot shooter than a shot creator in his old age, so as long as the Thunder are able to put Collison and Durant on him, Dirk shouldn't find open shots too often.

Still, there is a trade off. Losing Perk means OKC will have only Ibaka to protect the rim. Unless Collison starts tonight on the bench, the Thunder are in for some seriously porous interior defense from their second unit. McGary can be an effective one-on-one defender, but hasn't learned how to help out at the rim effectively yet. Jones generally has poor awareness, while KD's energy is usually best spent elsewhere. I'm predicting that players like Barea and Harris are going to have an absolute field day. That bodes bad for tonight's result, as a late insertion of Perry Jones III for Steven Adams is what killed the Thunder last December.

OKC's player to watch is definitely Serge Ibaka. Ibaka was fantastic against the Mavericks back in December, scoring 26 points in the first 3.5 quarters. Despite hardly touching the ball in the last 5 minutes of that game, it was the second highest total of Ibaka's season so far. Ibaka definitely likes the age of Dallas front line (Dirk, Tyson, and Villanueva are all pretty old and slow), so he should be able to get whatever shot he wants tonight. With how essential Ibaka will be on the defensive end of the floor, there will be a lot riding on the shoulders of the Serge protector tonight.

It's really hard to see OKC winning without Kendrick Perkins. I miss Perk. But you know, hopefully tonight will prove just how Perk was more of a locker room presence than a presence on the floor. Perk was always a Z-Bo neutralizer, but he could never quite have a good game against teams like the Mavs. So if any night is going to validate his absence, it will be tonight.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 103, Dallas Mavericks 95.

What do you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!

2014-15 NBA Season Game 54
@
36-19
(Won 1)

28-25
(Won 3)
February 19th, 2015
Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
7:00 PM Central Standard Time
TV: Turner Network Television, Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, Fox Sports Network Southwest
Injury Report: Tyson Chandler, Rajon Rondo (Probable), Steven Adams (Out)
This Season's Matchups: Dec 29 (L 112-107)
Probable Starters
Rajon Rondo PG Russell Westbrook
Monta Ellis SG Andre Roberson
Chandler Parsons SF Kevin Durant
Dirk Nowitzki PF Nick Collison
Tyson Chandler C Serge Ibaka

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