(Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)
Earl K. Sneed reports from Oklahoma City and previews Game 1 of the Dallas Mavericks' first-round series against the Thunder as the defending champions try to steal the home-court advantage.
Game 1 Preview: (7) Mavericks at (2) Thunder
OKLAHOMA CITY — If the Dallas Mavericks are to continue the defense of their first ever NBA title into the second round of the playoffs, then it will take at least one victory on the Oklahoma City Thunder’s home floor.
After dropping four straight on the road to conclude the regular season with a 13-20 mark away from Dallas, the Mavericks will try to rekindle the success of last season when the team finished with the best road mark while also winning both Western Conference finals matchups over the Thunder in Chesapeake Energy Arena en route to winning the series in five games.
Saturday night, the Mavs will try to steal the home-court advantage away from the Thunder as the two teams begin their first-round series, after the defending champions fell to two narrow defeats in Oklahoma City during the regular season.
“It’s time to play basketball and we’re ready,” sixth man Jason Terry said. “This is what you play for, to win another championship. Obviously, it starts with Game 1 … in a tough environment. Oklahoma is a tough place to play, but we match up very well with them. They’re playing very well, so it’s gonna be tough, but I think we’re up to the task.”
“They’re a very, very good team. They’re young and athletic, they’re talented and they’ve got a great home crowd,” 11-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki added. “I mean, that’s a fun building to play in. It gets as loud as any building in this league. So, we’ve gotta hang in there.”
Battling all night long before three-time scoring champion Kevin Durant downed the Mavs to a 104-102 road loss with a game-winning three on Dec. 29, the reigning titleholders then failed in their attempt at retribution after a 95-91 loss in OKC on March 5.
And after seeing the Thunder a total of six times following two exhibition contests in the preseason before dropping the season series 3-1, the Mavericks head into the 16-team championship chase very familiar with their first-round opponent while knowing exactly what it will take to pull the upset.
“There is a lot of familiarity,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle explained. “We’ve played these guys twice in exhibition and four times in the regular season and that adds to the intrigue of the series, I suppose. But we’re gonna have to play our game very well to do what we want to do and we’re gonna have to stick to our process for doing that.”
According to Carlisle, that process begins with slowing down Durant and the Thunder’s other components of a three-headed scoring attack, All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook and sixth man James Harden. And while the coach also admits that containing the talented trio may be easier said than done, it could prove to be vital to the Mavs’ ultimate success in the series.
“Again, they are as talented as any team in this league and Durant, Westbrook and Harden are all great individual players and they all make plays for their teammates. So, the matchups are always going to be challenging. We’re gonna have to guard these guys as a team. I mean, it’s virtually impossible to guard these guys one-on-one and just say, ‘Hey, you’ve got this guy.’ I mean, it’s just very, very difficult. So, our defense against these individual guys has got to be a five-man defense,” the coach concluded.
The Mavs-Thunder series begins on Saturday night in Oklahoma City, with Game 1 of the first-round matchup airing locally on TXA 21 and nationally on ESPN at 8:30 p.m. CT.
The Mavs-Thunder first-round series schedule is as follows:
Game 1: Mavericks at Thunder; Saturday April 28 at 8:30 p.m. CT on ESPN/TXA 21
Game 2: Mavericks at Thunder; Monday April 30 at 8:30 p.m. CT on TNT/TXA 21
Game 3: Thunder at Mavericks; Thursday May 3 at 8:30 p.m. CT on TNT/TXA 21
Game 4: Thunder at Mavericks; Saturday May 5 at 6:30 p.m. CT on TNT/TXA 21
Game 5: Mavericks at Thunder; Monday May 7 TBA
Game 6: Thunder at Mavericks; Thursday May 10 TBA
Game 7: Mavericks at Thunder; Saturday May 12 TBA