Dallas Mavericks-Oklahoma City Thunder Game 3 Preview & Prediction

May 21, 2011

The Dallas Mavericks and the Oklahoma City Thunder will renew their Western Conference Finals matchup in Game 3 tonight at the Oklahoma City Arena with the best-of-seven series knotted at a game apiece.

As is usually the case with closely-contested conference championships, both teams have some lingering questions, the answers to which will likely determine whether that team takes a two-games-to-one lead, or finds itself at a deficit.

Of course each team's coaching staff will also look to make adjustments to either exploit a perceived advantage over their opposition, or nullify an edge gained by their counterpart.

For the upstart Thunder, the biggest question mark heading into the pivotal Game 3 -- as it has been for much of the year -- will be the mindset of starting point guard Russell Westbrook.

When last seen, Westbrook -- who earned All-NBA Second Team honors this year -- was visibly miffed at either several members of the coaching staff, a teammate, a play call, or perhaps an official's miscue, as he fumed on the bench to end the third quarter of Game 2.

Despite the best efforts of assistant coach Maurice Cheeks and several teammates to calm him down, Westbrook continued to visibly vent out loud for a period of time, and as fate would have it, he remained on the bench for the entire fourth quarter.

The Thunder, led by a decidedly small lineup featuring two-time league scoring champ Kevin Durant flanked by backup point guard Eric Maynor, swingmen Daequan Cook and James Harden, and big man Nick Collison, managed to hold on and take home the win for a split in Big D.

However, that Game 2 result notwithstanding, the Thunder absolutely need Westbrook back in the fold and on board not only for Game 3, but also for the remainder of the series.

While most pundits were quick to point out that the Mavs would enjoy a decided advantage over the Thunder in the experience factor, nowhere was this discrepancy more clear then at the point guard position, which is manned for the Mavs by wily graybeard Jason Kidd.

But for all the advantage that the ageless Kidd has in experience, he is just as decidedly at a disadvantage in terms of lateral quickness and up-and-down speed, as he simply can't keep up with an explosive waterbug like Westbrook.

For Westbrook, the quicksilver and cocksure Los Angeles native is certainly aware of this, and likely sees this as an area in which he can exploit the Mavs' lack of footspeed and "get his" at anytime. This, of course is the gift and the curse of having such a supremely talented youngster at the helm.

The visiting Mavs, meanwhile, will likely need to see a drastic improvement in their bench production from Game 2 should they hope to steal an invaluable playoff road win.

While the play of Jason Terry, J.J. Barrea, and the rest of the Dallas bench has been one of their strong points for most of this post-season, they were clearly outplayed in a subpar Game 2 performance.

One game after supersub Terry single-handedly outscored the Thunder bench in the series opener, the tables were turned, as Oklahoma City's own super sub, second-year man Harden, nearly duplicated Terry's Game 1 feat, scoring 23 points off the bench.

The Mavs' reserves meanwhile, managed to score only 29 points combined for the game, paling in comparison to the 50 points scored by the Thunder reserves.

However, the impact of the OKC bench was not limited to just scoring, as Harden and Maynor played extremely efficiently the entire fourth quarter alongside superstar Durant. Still, the reserves picked up the scoring champ's slack, as Durant went a chilly 2 for-6 from the field in the fourth.

Most notably, Harden shot 4 for-5 in the final period, to go with Cook's 2 for-2 and Maynor's 2 for-3 shooting from the field. Indeed, Harden was huge with a number of big baskets over his Dallas counterpart Terry in tallying 10 fourth quarter points.

For the Dallas coaching staff, improvement will have to come on the defensive end in order to avoid another 106-100 loss similar to Game 2. This adjustment is predicated on the fact that the newly defensive-minded (under Coach Rick Carlisle) Mavs have surrendered 109 points per game on 51% shooting from the field to the Thunder in the series opening two games.

While most will point to Durant's highlight reel dunk for the ages over the hapless Brendan Haywood as Exhibit A in this regard, a closer look at the play reveals the real problem: Peja Stojakovic was matched up with Durant.

Needless to say, Peja brings many attributes to the table, including his ability to knock down open 3's from the weakside and stretch defenses, but on-ball defense is NOT one of them.

In fact, the Mavs perimeter defenders were consistently beaten off the dribble with ease by the Thunder's guards in both of the first two games, forcing the Mavs bigs into trying to bail them out. As a result, Tyson Chandler found himself in early foul trouble, leading to Haywood entering the game and getting punked on a Durant dunk that is probably already immortalized on millions of fans' desktops as we speak.

In Game 3, it is this scribe's belief that Carlisle will have to continue to honor the creed that got them this far -- and was initially subscribed to by the now departed Avery Johnson with this same group -- defense first.

That being said, look for the versatile Shawn Marion and possibly even the mercurial, athletic headcase that is DeShawn Stevenson to log more minutes in attempting to slow the Thunder's active and young wing players.

Defensively for Oklahoma City, they need to decide who is their best option at slowing down Dallas' number one offensive weapon in Dirk Nowitzki (team-high 29 points in Game 2).

While Collison has been lauded for his defensive prowress in the last series for his work against Memphis big man Zach Randolph, Thunder coach Scotty Brooks probably has a few better options in his arsenal.

He could go the big and athletic route with Serge Ibaka, as he did in Game 1, but we all know how well that went over, as Dirk erupted for 48.

He could go with the player who most suits Dirk, both in stature and in game, with his own super scorer in Durant. But this would likely take away from his own man's effectiveness, especially if it results in foul trouble.

For those reasons, I say their best bet would be to throw multiple looks at the German gunner: a combination of the long, versatile, yet still unheralded Thabo Sefolosha, in combination with Collison, Ibaka, and even Durant mixed in at times.

As for a Game 3 prediction, it says here that fans can look forward to another high-scoring, exciting shootout in the Oklahoma State Capital, with each team enjoying leads, only to squander them to big runs from the trailing team desperate to erase its deficit.

In the end, Nowitzki, Chandler, Marion, plus Terry and J.J Barrea returning to form off the bench, should all add up to a 107-102 win, and a two-games-to-one series lead for the Mavs.

By Kweku Turkson
Staff Reporter for TheDailySportsHerald.com

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