Oklahoma City Thunder vs Dallas Mavericks: Lineups, preview & prediction 2/28/18
Each remaining game is vital for the Thunder, who are locked in the middle of a cluster of teams between third and tenth. Can they snatch an important win against Dallas?
The Mavericks snapped a four-game losing streak on Monday, overcoming the Pacers 109-103. J. J Barca had 19 points and nine assists off the bench, while Dwight Powell had a ten point, 14 assist double-double.
Perhaps contrary to the desires of the organization, the win moved the Mavs up to 12th place in the Western Conference standings. They are at the head of the bottom four teams in the west, with their 19 wins one more than Memphis, Sacramento, and Phoenix.
The Thunder bounced back from a 32-point loss to the Warriors by beating the Magic 112-105. Paul George returned to form with 26 points, while Russell Westbrook struggled, scoring just eight points. OKC are perilously placed in the standings, sitting in seventh place. Their 35-27 record has them in a playoff position by just two games, but they are also just a couple of games behind the Timberwolves in third.
Three keys to the game
Can Westbrook recapture his groove? – Since the All-Star break, Westbrook has really struggled. He is shooting at just 26.8% of the floor in his past three games, for an average of just 13.3 points. His 9.7 assists per game in this time are around his season average, but they have been accompanied by 6.7 turnovers.
Dallas’ form against OKC – Despite the respective records of these sides, the Mavericks actually have a 2-1 series lead over the Thunder, and have won the past two matchups. The most recent of these was a 116-113 New Years Eve victory, while prior to that they stifled the Thunder to record a 97-81 win.
Points off turnovers – This game will see the league’s best team at scoring off turnovers match up against the best team at preventing scores off turnovers. OKC score 18.5 points in this way, thanks largely to the active hands of Paul George and Westbrook, both of whom rank in the top five in the league for steals per game. Dallas, however, take good care of the basketball, and allow a league-low 13.8 points off turnovers per night.
Matchup to watch
Dennis Smith Jr vs Russell Westbrook – The most explosive point guard in the league will match up against a guy who, in his first season, bears many similarities to the 2017 MVP. Smith Jr’s incredible athleticism is one of the main reason’s why Dallas selected him with pick nine in last year’s draft. In his first season, Smith Jr is averaging a respectable 14.6 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 4.8 assists, though he is going at just 38.9% from the field – another reason for the comparison with the reigning MVP.
Westbrook is not as bad, going at 43.8% from the field, but he is shooting just 29% from 3-point range, his lowest percentage since 2009. Westbrook is, however, averaging 24.8 points, 9.6 rebounds, 10.4 assists, and 1.9 steals a game, and is still one of the top handful of players in the league.
Dallas Mavericks predicted starting lineup
PG – Dennis Smith Jr | SG – Wesley Matthews | SF – Harrison Barnes | PF – Dwight Powell | C – Dirk Nowitzki
Oklahoma City Thunder predicted starting lineup
PG – Russell Westbrook | SG – Josh Huestis | SF – Paul George | PF – Carmelo Anthony | C – Steven Adams
OKC’s stars have had mixed fortunes in their three games against Dallas this season. George went 1-for-12 from the field for two points in the second matchup, but sandwiched that game with two outings in which he averaged 31 points, shot 53% from the floor, and connected on 11 of 19 3-point attempts. Westbrook averaged 33 points, 13.5 rebounds, 10.0 assists and just 3.0 turnovers in the first two meetings against Dallas, but in the most recent game went 6-for-18 from the field, had just five assists, and turned it over four times.
Oklahoma City have been given a handicap of just 4.5 points, and this is not enough. Dallas tend to keep games relatively close, but they have no motivation to win, while OKC need every victory they can get. The Thunder will blow past this margin.
Dallas will make this game a grind, as they generally do, but OKC will be far too strong. Westbrook will return to form against the inexperienced Smith Jr, and score upwards of 25 points, as will George, who is on an impressive extended streak of scoring.
Steven Adams will brush past the declining and undersized Nowitzki, grabbing seven or more offensive rebounds, which will lead to a lot of second chance points.
The game will be close going into halftime, but in the second half the Thunder will pull away to win 109-100.
The game will be broadcast locally on FSSW and Fox Sports Oklahoma. Tip-off is at 8:30pm ET.