Start time - 6:00 p.m. (CT)
Broadcaster - Bally Sports Oklahoma
The Thunder’s last game against the Lakers was a resounding defeat for Oklahoma City. LeBron James rolled back the clock and produced one of his finest performances of the season. On the other hand, the Thunder’s key offensive contributors did not really get started. Luguentz Dort and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander both struggled from the field.
Oklahoma City’s offensive efforts were led by Tre Mann and Josh Giddey. Giddey continues to impress with his passing and his commitment to finding guys who play selflessly. Players who move without the ball like Muscala, JRE and Dort are frequent beneficiaries of Giddey’s silky smooth playmaking.
Tre Mann was great off the bench and provided crucial buckets for the Thunder during the first half. OKC’s offense was sputtering for large periods of the first half but Mann’s willingness to attack the basket kept the offense ticking over.
Tre Mann has all the ability to be a premier spark plug in the league. The game against the Lakers was the first time that the potential started to be realised. Mann did not settle for step-back jumpers nor did he become focused on embarrassing the defense; Tre played with the intent of scoring the ball efficiently.
The Thunder’s opponents on Sunday are a team that is littered with unrealised potential. When the Mavericks swung a trade for Kristaps Porzingis, there was an expectation that Dallas would kick on and start making deep playoff runs.
This season feels like the Mavericks are stuck in the weeds. Dallas have one of the best young stars in the sport in Doncic but he has not performed at the same level that he did last year. Luka played a full Olympic campaign with Slovenia before taking time off from basketball before returning for training camp.
He has played a lot of basketball over the last few years and you can tell that he is still quite fatigued. Doncic is lumbering up and down the court as he attempts to play himself into shape. The Mavericks’ play is heavily dependent on Luka’s playmaking.
Dallas have other playmakers but their starting lineup is Luka surrounded by specialists. Bullock and Finney-Smith are fine fill-in-the gaps role players. Porzingis is a sound defensive anchor and necessary floorspacer. Jalen Brunson and Tim Hardaway Jr can create shots for others but they both come off the bench.
Without Luka driving and collapsing the defense, Dallas’ offense is too happy to settle for jumpers. Great jump shooting teams can put games away but Dallas is not a great shooting team; the Mavericks are bottom five in 3-point percentage this year.
Oklahoma City’s path to victory will involve targeting Doncic on defense and tiring him out over the course of the game. Luka being tired will mean that the Mavericks’ offense suffers and the Thunder can eke out a lead.
The other point worth noting is that Jason Kidd runs a very aggressive defensive coverage that is predicated on blitzing or trapping the opposing lead ball-handler. SGA is going to have to play through pressure and continue to make the right decisions. He cannot afford to get nervous and start turning the ball over.
It would be wise to bring Giddey away the corner and closer to the break so that Shai has a release valve whenever the pressure becomes too much. Josh Giddey has more than enough in his locker to dissect 4v3 situations.
The Mavericks currently have one of the best players in basketball but basketball is a team game. Oklahoma City will need to play as a collective to disrupt the Mavericks’ rhythm and win the game.