The Oklahoma City Thunder visit the Dallas Mavericks
Jeff Green can’t stop Dirk Nowitzki. Josh Howard can’t stop Kevin Durant. That certainly makes tonight’s game fun, doesn’t it?
One catch: Durant’s on fire, and Dirk’s sputtering. That’s a pretty significant caveat.
The Thunder aren’t as talented of a defensive outfit as the Spurs or even the Bucks, but Durant, Green, and Russell Westbrook make them dangerous. The Mavs have made it abundantly clear that they’re completely vulnerable to blowing games after demonstrative wins, and Dirk is in what is probably the biggest “slump” (by his standards) of his career. Aggressive double-teams and cold shooting have put him in a funk, and I’m not even sure that a subpar OKC defense is going to be enough to lull him out of it. Dirk’s going to turn it around eventually, but I’m of the philosophy that it happens when it happens. If the Thunder aren’t coming strong with the doubles and Dirk actually gets off a reasonable number of attempts, that’s one thing. But when Dirk struggles, it’s rarely because one particular guy is standing in front of him. He’s either being swarmed or he’s off. Not all defenders are created equal, but few can truly contest Dirk’s jumper.
Kevin Durant is really, really good at basketballing. If you’re not legitimately scared of the myriad of ways this guy can carve up a defense, you haven’t been watching enough basketball. His shot is effortless, his range is unreal, and his repertoire is unmatched for a second year player. His faults are few, and he’s improving as a rebounder, defender, and passer. It should be quite the contrast from the slightly above average Richard Jefferson, and Josh Howard/Antoine Wright/whoever draws the short straw is going to have their hands full and then some. The Durantula takes no prisoners.
Regardless if Durant and Dirk end up as two ships passing quietly in the night, whichever supporting cast steps up wins. Based on how the Mavs’ bench has been playing as of late, my money’s on Dallas. This is one of the cases where no Jason Terry may be no problem; Josh Howard, Antoine Wright, Jason Kidd, Brandon Bass, J.J. Barea, and James Singleton are all more than capable and can all cause their own unique problems for the Thunder.
Does stomping the Thunder represent a quality win? Probably not, unless there’s a complete Durant lockdown. A win doesn’t mean much in terms of the team’s progress, but it also means the Mavs aren’t losing any ground in the standings. I doubt the Mavs are circling this game on their calendar, but at this point in the season it’s as much about winning as it is not losing.