The Oklahoma City Thunder do have the excuse of missing three starting players, including a resting Russell Westbrook, but it’s still hard to fathom just how bad they looked in a 109-86 loss at home to the Dallas Mavericks, pulling them even further away from the top spot in the Western conference.
And it’s not going to get any easier. Yes, Westbrook will be back, but the Thunder played their best basketball this season without him. The omissions of Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha make it very difficult for a team that relies so much on their ability to defend with big numbers in the paint but rush out quickly to shooters seem to be a bigger point of emphasis than Westbrook being treated carefully.
Kevin Durant did score 30 points, but it was his biggest meaningless game of the season, reminding some of those early days with the Sonics and Thunder before they became one of the best teams in the NBA. It didn’t matter that Durant hit 4-of-8 from beyond the arc. The Thunder shot only 36.7% from the field, not stopping to think about doing something wrong for even a second. Serge Ibaka hit only 8-of-19 from the field, and the inclusion of Andre Robinson in the lineup instead of Jeremy Lamb or Caron Butler didn’t really work out.
Rick Carlisle wasn’t delirious at the end of the game despite the huge win in Oklahoma City, something the Mavericks have found very hard to come by since winning the NBA title in 2011. He said he knows they caught a break with Westbrook and other starters missing, but in the NBA, you still need to go out there and execute, which the Mavs did to the best of their ability.
Dallas hit 13-of-24 from beyond the arc, making the most of the Thunder’s failed execution of their squeeze and expand defendse. Dallas steered clear of the paint, but they’re never a team that does too well scoring down low anyway. The Mavs did score 40 points in the paint, but only after the Thudner were already pretty much broken and giving up on trying to win a game that until not too long ago was an automatic W for them.
Jose Calderon was at his best in moving the ball with 16 points and 7 assits, while Shawn Marion enjoyed the zero effort we saw from Durant on defense, which tends to happen when games start to slip away from the Thunder. Mario had 19 points to lead the Mavs, followed by Dirk Nowitzki with 17 points and Vince Carter having a great game off the bench scoring 18 points.
The Thunder don’t really need to panic. They do have three back to backs (this was the opening of one) until March 25, which probably means more games without Westbrook, who is going to remain under a careful watch until the playoffs begin. But worry? Probably a good time to do so. Assuming Perkins and Sefolosha do get back in time for the postseason, the defense will look better, but the Thunder have been exposed more than once. Scott Brooks isn’t huge on adjustments, but if there was ever a time to draw up some backup plans to what he has now, which is the same defense and the go-to Durant initiative, now is the time.