Since the Dallas Mavericks defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals two years ago the teams have headed in opposite directions. This year, to the surprise of many, OKC has improved despite trading Sixth Man of the Year James Harden and they’re doing it on many levels.
Kevin Martin, who came in for Harden has played better than expected and everyone from Kevin Durant to Russell Westbrook to the many role players on the team have stepped up their game, truly demonstrating a young team growing into a possible dynasty and indicating Scott Brooks is going to be one of the better coaches in the NBA.
Kevin Durant’s statistics are up almost across the board, Russell Westbrook’s assists are at a career high and Serge Ibaka is having a career year in scoring and that’s just for starters. The Thunder are an imposing opponent inside and out on both ends of the floor. Although they lost to the Heat again on Christmas day, the Thunder have a solid chance of getting back to the NBA Finals for a possible rematch.
The Thunder are third in the league in scoring (3rd) and solid defensively (11th) while middle of the pack on the boards (14th) which are sadly all ahead of the Mavericks, making for a potentially long night. Kevin Durant is scoring at a 28 ppg clip, good for third in the league and hits over 52% of his shots. Westbrook is less efficient at 40% but still manages to rack up over 21 ppg while dishing out over 8 ½ assists. Serge Ibaka is scoring a career-high 14 ppg while still blocking 3 shots per game.
While Dirk Nowitzki will be brought along slowly and continue to come off the bench for the time being, the Mavericks will start to reform their offense around him and Coach Rick Carlisle had extra practices over the Christmas holidays to try to do some damage control after multiple blowout losses including the worst yet in the last game against the San Antonio Spurs.
To compete with the Thunder will be a real challenge, especially in view of Dallas’ poor interior defense this year. It is more feasible that they might be successful on the offensive end if Dirk can get going and get some help from the supporting cast, especially a mix of inside/outside game which stretches the floor and is supplemented by Chris Kaman and Elton Brand connecting on short midrange jumpers and slipping Brandan Wright in for easy baskets around the rim.
This is even more critically important in view of how other teams’ attention to O. J. Mayo has affected his game. Thabo Sefalosha is one of the best defensive guards in the league so chances are Mayo will not have an easy path to a great game and since Rick Carlisle knows this, he might want to spread the wealth or should I say, opportunity.
If the Mavericks pick one or more of the usual maladies that has plagued them, poor shooting, poor rebounding, poor defense or turnovers, it will be another long night in OKC.
Tags: Chris Kaman Dallas Dallas Mavericks Dirk Nowitzki DirkNowitzki Elton Brand Kevin Durant Kevin Martin Mark Cuban Mavericks Mavs NBA. Dallas Mavericks Nowitzki O. J. Mayo Russell Westbrook Serge Ibaka Shawn Marion Thabo Sefalosha