The champion Dallas Mavericks head north tonight to take on the reigning 2x NBA scoring champ Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder. The young and exciting Sooner State squad is off to a strong 3-0 start in this compacted and compressed 2011-2012 NBA season. Scott Brooks’ roster remains in tact with nine returning players, so the Thunder will try to build on last year’s outstanding results and go one colossal step further to the NBA Finals.
On the other side, coach Rick Carlisle’s Mavs (0-2) are hoping to earn their first ‘W’ of this 66-game tilt after being blown out in both of their losses. On Christmas afternoon Dallas was handled easily by their 2011 Finals foes the Miami Heat soon after raising their first championship banner to the rafters in front of a boisterous crowd. And on Monday night, at home again, the Denver Nuggets destroyed them by a score of 115-93, and it wasn’t even that close. Heavy is the head that wears the crown?
The good news for the Mavs is that they won six of eight games against the Thunder last season, including four of five in the 2011 Western Conference Finals. In addition they were 4-0 in OKC, averaging a healthy 104.8 ppg.
The bad news is that this Dallas team looks and feels, in these early stages, quite different from the group that surprised a lot of seasoned hoops-heads and won their first title last June. The Mavericks lost six players from their history-making roster. Starting center Tyson Chandler and his 10.1 ppg, 9.4 rpg and, most importantly, his menacing defensive presence is gone via a sign-and-trade with the New York Knicks. Team sparkplug and pride of Northeastern University PG J.J. Barea left for the Timberwolves after they offered him more security with a four-year deal. Gone too are veterans Caron Butler and DeShawn Stevenson.
However, Mark Cuban’s band of ballers still boasts veteran holdovers 2011 Finals MVP, 10x NBA All-Star and scorer extraordinaire Dirk Nowitzki, 18th-year, 10x NBA All-Star ‘Mr. Forever Young’ PG Jason Kidd, “The Matrix” 6’7” wingman Shawn Marion and the JET – Jason Terry – the emotional heart of the team and former Sixth Man of the Year. The Mavs must quickly work to acclimate their new key players: 14th-year SG/SF Vince Carter, 13th-year forward Lamar Odom and 8th-year combo guard Delonte West.
Marv, Steve and I will be back in the booth tonight for another must-see NBA opening week matchup. Tune in to TNT at 8:00 PM ET to see if Dallas can right their ship and get back to playing the type of Mavericks basketball that won at least 50 games for 11 straight seasons and earned them the big ring last year.