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Thunder vs Mavericks preview: OKC has some ‘splaining to do in Dallas

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The Thunder are looking to build momentum at the start of this road trip, and the tanking/not-tanking Mavs have been a thorn in their sides this season.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Oklahoma City Thunder Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Thunder will be off and running as they are about to embark on a 3 game, 4 day road trip. This road trip will consist of going to Phoenix, Portland, and tonight’s match-up the Dallas Mavericks. OKC is coming off a solid home victory over the Orlando Magic on Monday. Comparable to the Magic, the Mavericks have a young but below average talent level on their team this year; their 19-42 record makes it pretty evident. Despite their record, the Mavs tend to play at a high energy level that the Thunder will need to match in order to pull out a victory tonight. Here are four keys on how the Thunder can get it done tonight in Dallas:

4) Starting five matchup battles between Thunder and Mavs

Although the Mavs own the season series record at 2 games to 1 at the moment, the Thunder unquestionably have the talent advantage heading into tonight’s game. Starting at the point for the Mavs will most likely be their promising young rookie, Dennis Smith Jr., who was instrumental in closing out the Thunder on New Year’s Eve. Smith comes into tonight averaging close to 15 PPG as he has been one of the few bright spots for the Mavs this season. He will have the displeasure of guarding Russell Westbrook on the other hand. Russ hasn’t been the usual offensive juggernaut we’re use to seeing. Over his past 3 games, Russ has averaged around 13 PPG and shot 29% from the floor. He will look to turn it around tonight against a lackluster Mavericks defense.

Josh Huestis/ Alex Abrines will look to oppose veteran guard Wesley Matthews. Abrines will most likely see most of the floor time for the Thunder as his play on both sides of the ball have been greatly improved as of late. The Mavericks tend to shoot a lot of 3’s as Matthews, along with starting small forward Harrison Barnes and fellow forward Doug McDermott, look to capitalize on the Mavs’ biggest strength. Huestis and Paul George are two of the Thunder’s best perimeter defenders and will look to close out open looks tonight.

Two future Hall of Famers in Carmelo Anthony and Dirk Nowitzki will battle head-to-head tonight at the power forward position. While both are clearly past their prime, and play with the same old school type of mentality when it comes to scoring, that should be interesting to watch. Nerlens Noel is returning back to the Mavs lineup tonight as he will be opposed by Steven Adams down low. The only legitimate shot the Mavs have tonight is taking advantage of their home court and using their athleticism to get easy buckets when OKC’s perimeter defense breaks down.

3) A win tonight for the Thunder could prove large

The Thunder sit just two games back of the Minnesota Timberwolves for the 3rd place spot in the Western Conference. With Golden State and Houston running away with the conference, that leaves OKC, along with Minnesota, San Antonio, Portland, New Orleans, the Clippers, Denver and Utah all within 5 games of each other. As the Thunder will be on the road for the next week, this stretch of road games could determine if and where the Thunder end up in the conference at the end of the regular season. It has been noted time and time again that the Thunder have played down to their competition this year. Starting off this road trip tonight with a win and against a team that has given the Thunder constant problems all season long, can start a drive that can lead the Thunder to the top of the Western Conference.

2) Thunder look to even up season series at 2-2

With the the Thunder winning 3 of their previous 4 games, they have momentum coming into tonight. Not only that, but they also have an even greater edge, as they try to topple a team that has given them fits all season long. The Mavs won their last head to head at the Chesapeake Energy Arena 116-113 (keep in mind the Mavs have won 7 games on the road all year). And the Mavs also beat the Thunder on their home court this year as well. This allows the Thunder to create some revenge against a team that had no right to beat them twice in the first place. Westbrook dropped a 38 point tripe-double the last time he played the Mavericks and will most likely need to muster up a similar performance tonight.

1) Jerami Grant could prove to be the defining factor

When you’re battling a team like Dallas, you need some versatility from a guy that can play multiple positions and provide a solid defensive presence as well. Good thing head coach Billy Donovan has Jerami Grant to fill in that spot for him. Grant has arguably been the Thunder’s most improved player not named Adams over the course of this year. Grant’s ability to stay in front of the dribble and not allow people to blow by him along with his shot blocking ability has made Grant a serious asset for the thunder moving forward.

On top of that, the bench and grant have producing well as of late too, playing a key role in OKC’s win over the Magic. Grant very well could be the key as he has come up with timely stops in transition time and time again. It will be exciting to watch if all of those things come to fruition and the if the Thunder can close out the season series in Dallas on a high note.



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