On December 27th, the nearly hapless Dallas Mavericks almost upset the cruising Oklahoma City Thunder, the defending Western Conference Champions who have had the league’s best record on and off all season. Taking the game to overtime, the game signaled the beginning of a possible change for the Dallas Mavericks.
As it happens, because that’s exactly what has transpired, when OKC visits Dallas Friday evening, the game will have an entirely different flavor. The Thunder are still atop the league but the Mavericks have won four in a row by elevating their game on several fundamental levels.
The last 9 games for the Mavericks, compared to the first 31 games of the year, have been quite different. For one, the Mavericks have Dirk Nowitzki back and perhaps because of that, other guys are providing scoring balance nightly and best of all, not just O. J. Mayo. The Mavs have had solid scoring from Shawn Marion, Chris Kaman, Vince Carter and/or Darren Collison as well on any given night.
These other statistics, courtesy of Mark Followill, Dallas' play-by-play announcer on Fox Sports Southwest, also tell a story:
- Opponents’ points off turnovers: First 31 games, 15.6; last 9 games 11.2
- Rebounding differential: First 31 games, -4.9; last 9 games -2.0
- Opponents’ points in the pain: First 31 games, 41.2; last 9 games 37.6
So it appears the Mavericks are a different team and on that basis, things should be interesting. That being said, the Thunder are still the top scoring team in the league while also being in the top 10 in fewest points allowed and on the boards.
Clearly derailing the Thunder is no easy task but if the Mavericks can continue to do what they have been doing well, there is a chance of success. That will entail once again having balanced scoring. Serge Ibaka and is going to provide obstacles to making easy baskets inside so having Dirk, Chris Kaman and Elton Brand push the issue and find the range will help keep the team from being relegated to jump shots all night. Mayo and Vince Carter need to continue to mix it up and Darren Collison needs to continue his improved decision making.
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are as potent as ever and with Ibaka putting up career numbers and Kevin Martin doing his share, the Thunder have surprisingly not missed a beat without James Harden. The Mavericks will be especially hard-pressed on defense and Rick Carlisle will do well to use as much Shawn Marion, Brand and Dahntay Jones as it takes to harass the them and disrupt their offense.
The Mavericks were competitive with OKC last time around and this game could be a signal that the team has truly turned the corner.