The Thunder shook loose from a losing skid on Friday night with a hard-fought win against the LA Clippers, but now it must back that performance up, and start a winning streak, against the Dallas Mavericks.
The Western Conference neighbors to the south are a young squad that is playing extremely small this season – with Dirk Nowitzki at the center spot, Harrison Barnes at power forward, Wesley Matthews at small forward and then a pair of lightning quick guards in Yogi Ferrell and the rookie Dennis Smith Jr. at the guard spots. For the Thunder, being light on their feet and disciplined in their positioning to stay in front of the ball will be crucial.
For Head Coach Billy Donovan’s club, it’ll also be important to keep executing late into the game. Under Rick Carlisle, the Mavericks always give themselves a chance and play competitively and with intelligence each night. That means the Thunder has to play with the same level of discipline that it did in the fourth quarter against LA.
“Slow down, stay composed under those circumstances, continue to find what’s working for us and go with that,” forward Carmelo Anthony said. “Not being too predictable.”
Part of the key for the Thunder will be the communication, which on Friday was excellent. Anthony was acting almost as the anchor of the defense, even at the power forward spot, in the absence of Steven Adams. On nearly every possession, Anthony was talking to rookie Dakari Johnson, telling him where to be and what do to. That chatter helped Johnson be in position, and aided the Thunder’s strong close to the game.
“Russ, PG and Carmelo were really talking out there.” Johnson said.
“We were the aggressors. We didn’t allow anything to dictate how we wanted to finish,” George added. “We had a game plan, we stuck to it.
– Last game, the Thunder utilized Paul George with the second unit rather than Carmelo Anthony, a stylistic choice by Donovan that he thought might open up some different possibilities for the group. Donovan liked what he saw, and unless game conditions dictate otherwise, look for the Thunder to keep George with that rotation pattern in the near future.
- “We could do something a little bit different to add something different to our team,” Donovan said. “You are trying to look at different options to help the group. I’m not saying that is the end all be all, but right now we will stick with it moving forward.”
– Look for George to continue to be aggressive on offense, as he was on Friday night. He earned praise from Donovan for his movement off the ball, and his ability to be a player who can score in a variety of different ways. When asked what helped him get into the paint with such frequency, George cited a surprising, physical reason that was aided by a Thunder staffer.
- “Honestly I have to thank our strength coach AP (Andrew Paul). I haven’t gotten a stretch the way I got stretched today getting my body loose, my legs loose, my lower back. That was the key honestly,” George said. “It allowed me to be loose and play small off the dribble and play downhill a lot easier. Once my body felt good it naturally put me in attack mode and I felt comfortable.”
– It remains to be seen whether Steven Adams will be back in the lineup for the Thunder tonight, but if not, the team was pleased with the way Dakari Johnson handled his first start and are confident that he can give good minutes. On Friday, Johnson knocked down a crucial mid-range jumper with 2:11 to go and helped the Thunder on both ends of the floor.
- “I work on that jump shot every day. You can ask Coach (Mark Bryant). He’s very familiar with that jump shot.”
- “The fact that he is in shape, he’s conditioned, he’s worked hard he has kept himself ready to play. He was a major factor,” Donovan noted. “Dakari has been really good about being patient and keeping himself ready.”
- “He worked so hard to get himself in this position. Everybody is in this locker room is very proud of him,” Westbrook said.