The Dallas Mavericks have a four game winning streak to defend tonight when they welcome Oklahoma City to the American Airlines Center and attempt to continue reviving their season which seemed on the cusp of being over just as Dirk Nowitzki returned.
Now the Mavericks sit just six games below .500 and are in desperate need of a few more victories to pump life into their playoff hopes before the all-star break and tonight’s game against the defending Western Conference champs could prove to be a major stepping stone if they can emerge victorious.
Doing so won’t be easy, however, as the Thunder come in on a five game winning streak of their own. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant have been terrorizing their opponents during that span, averaging a combined 60 points per game. Westbrook is having his best season yet when it comes to getting his teammates involved while Durant has stepped up his efforts defensively this season.
This game essentially comes down to matchups that will either feed or dash the Mavs hopes. Oklahoma City is a clear favorite to win tonight and with good reason. The Thunder have the best offense in the NBA at 105 points per game and the eighth best defense giving up an average of 96 per contest. Here is a look at the matchups that could make the biggest difference.
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DIRK VS IBAKA
Since coming back into the fold on Dec. 23, Nowitzki is averaging around 14 points per game, but he is coming off one of his best performances of the season with 19 points and 8 rebounds against the Rockets. He’ll face off against the league’s leading shot blocker in Ibaka, but since Nowitzki doesn’t spend much time getting to the rim, the Thunder may be better off sticking Kendrick Perkins on the Big German.
Defensively, Nowitzki will have his hands full more than he did the last two times he saw Ibaka in the postseason. The Congo international has improved his mid range game and is scoring at a career high clip of 14 points per game. Nowitzki having a good game and keeping Ibaka at bay may be one of the only upper hands the Mavericks have.
MAYO VS SEFALOSHA
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The Mavericks don’t have players who can really compete with Westbrook or Durant, but when it comes to the shooting guard position, the Mavericks have a clear advantage. Mayo is averaging a career best 18 points per game and shooting 45 percent from the field. Against Oklahoma City, he’ll be faced with a tough defender in Sefalosha, but if he can get his points on the board, he won’t have to worry about the Thunder’s fourth best scorer keeping up with him.
CHRIS KAMAN VS KENDRICK PERKINS
Kaman has been far from consistent this season averaging 13 points per game, but he has shown the ability to score at will in certain games. The team would benefit immensely if he could get going against Kendrick Perkins who provides little to no scoring for the Thunder, but that would be no small feat considering Perkins and Ibaka combine for one of the best front court defenses in the league giving up less than 40 points per game in the paint.
These two sides are two of the best at running the floor with Dallas fourth in the league in fast break points per game and Oklahoma City sixth, so expect a fast tempo. Both shoot good percentages, but defense is going to be the key difference between them. That is an area the Thunder severely out class the Mavs who give up 102 points per game. Dallas may be able to keep up with the Thunder offensively, but it will ultimately be their inability to stop Durant and Westbrook that will end this four game winning streak.
Final Score: Oklahoma City 115-Dallas 101