Preseason game recap: Dallas Mavericks 76 at Oklahoma City 88
Preseason game recap: Dallas Mavericks 76 at Oklahoma City 88
WICHITA, Kan. — Minus four of his veteran leaders and without his superstar for six weeks following arthroscopic knee surgery, Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle approached his squad’s second to last preseason game with a positive message to his young players.
With Dirk Nowitzki (right knee), Chris Kaman (strained right calf), Shawn Marion (rest) and Vince Carter (rest) all back in Dallas, the new-look Mavericks traveled to Wichita, Kan. to face off with the reigning Western Conference champion Oklahoma City Thunder Wednesday night in front of a capacity INTRUST Bank Arena crowd. And as rookies Jared Cunningham, Bernard James and Jae Crowder prepared for significant minutes in the exhibition showdown, Carlisle used the Thunder as the perfect illustration of the elite status that the first-year pros should strive to reach themselves.
“This is a higher level of competition,” Carlisle explained. “You know, there’s a group of teams, there’s three or four that are really up there, and this is one of those teams that’s really up there. Not only do they have the high ability level and size and strength, but they’ve played together for many years, they’re passing the ball better than they ever have and those kinds of things make them again one of the favorites coming out of the West.”
Of the three, Crowder would get Carlisle's message loud and clear.
The coach then got to see where his shorthanded squad stacks up against one of the league’s elite teams, as both lineups took to the floor looking to improve upon 3-3 preseason records. And with the Thunder clicking on all cylinders, the Mavericks (3-4) wouldn’t have enough to match firepower before falling to an 88-76 defeat.
With Marion back home, newcomer Dahntay Jones joined the starting lineup next to Crowder and Elton Brand in the frontcourt, in addition to guards Darren Collison and O.J. Mayo. And against the likes of three-time scoring champion Kevin Durant and two-time All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook, the Mavericks would get off to a quick with Brand and Collison leading the way.
But the Thunder would rally with a strong close to the opening period led by Durant’s nine points and five rebounds, taking a 23-16 advantage after the first 12 minutes of play.
Getting a boost from a monster breakaway slam by third-year guard Dominique Jones after the Mavs found themselves down by double digits in the second quarter, the Dallas team tried to muster up a comeback. Backup big man Brandan Wright also provided a lift with his inside scoring to match Sixth Man of the Year James Harden’s production at the other end.
The offense would then run through the rookie Crowder, who went in search of his fifth straight double-figure scoring night. But even with Crowder and Wright both posting nine points through two quarters, the Mavericks entered the locker room down 53-40 with Durant and Serge Ibaka combining to score 26 points and grab 12 rebounds.
Led by Ibaka’s 6-for-10 from the floor, the Thunder (4-3) outshot the Mavericks through the first 24 minutes of action, 46.8 percent to 43.6 percent. Oklahoma City also held a dominating 30-14 rebounding advantage at the midway mark.
Choosing to sit Crowder in favor of starting Wright at the 5 — with Brand sliding to the power forward spot — as the second half began, Carlisle would be rewarded for his decision after the big man met Durant at the rim for a rejection early in the third quarter.
“We knew we had to go big,” Wright said of the move. “I mean, we were getting crushed. This is one of the teams that it’s hard to play small ball against with Ibaka and [Kendrick] Perkins out there. I mean, Durant is long and Russell crashes the boards also. We started out pretty good and we had good chemistry out there.”
Wright also continued his assault on the Thunder defense, with Mayo lending a helping hand to get the Mavericks back into the game. But after Wright came down awkwardly on his left ankle following a defensive rebound, forcing him to head to the locker room accompanied by head athletic trainer Casey Smith, the Mavs couldn’t climb out of their double-digit hole, trailing 71-57 at the end of three.
“I think it will be good. I can’t call it right now. It’s sore, but we’ll see how it goes,” Wright said of the sprained left ankle as he also battles a quad strain on the same leg suffered on Day 2 of training camp.
With Wright sidelined for the rest of the game, Crowder resumed the scoring responsibilities in the final period while looking more like a veteran than a rookie. But even with the first-year standout filling up the stat sheet, the Mavericks continued to face a lopsided deficit on the scoreboard, falling to the loss as the team’s budding stars finished the game.
Finishing the night with a preseason-high 21 points on 10-of-19 shooting, Crowder just missed out on a double-double with nine rebounds and three assists in just over 34 minutes of action.
“I know we were missing a few today, but with a lot of the older guys here helping me out, it’s building my confidence. … I’ll do whatever the team needs me to do,” the rookie modestly said.
“Well, he played a lot of minutes. He played too many minutes, really. We just didn’t have enough guys to get him out of the game," Carlisle said of Crowder's night. "But, you know, I like the way he plays and I like the way he played tonight. He just does a lot of good things on the court and he’s gonna be a guy that’s gonna be an important guy for us.”
Wright was the only other Mav in double figures with 11 points on 3-of-6 from the field, snatching down five boards before going out with the injury. Durant finished leading three Thunder players in double figures, hitting on 7-of-16 and scoring 18 points to go with seven rebounds.
Shooting below 40 percent for a third straight game, the Mavericks ended the night outshot, 43 percent to 37.3 percent, but did sprint to a 23-14 advantage in fast-break points. The Thunder also claimed a 51-40 rebounding margin, committing 19 turnovers to the Mavs’ 16 giveaways.
“The big concern was the rebounding. We were down 16 at halftime and we made up five in the second half, so we did better in the second half. Part of that was I think Wright was out there to start the second half, and that helps because of more length, but that’s gonna be an ongoing challenge for us and we’ve gotta deal with it. And we’re gonna have to do it collectively.”
“When we run our sets on the offensive end and get stops on defense, we can compete with a lot of people,” Crowder added. “Although we were missing a few pieces of our puzzle, we felt like we were right there in the game and those guys had each of their top players. So, we know we’ll be fine.”
The Mavericks will now wrap up preseason play at home Friday night against the Charlotte Bobcats. The game will air locally on TXA 21 at 7:30 p.m. CT. Tickets for the game are still available and can be purchased by calling (214) 747-MAVS or by visiting Mavs.com.
“I thought we had a lot of guys that really battled tonight. This is a very physical team, so we needed our physical guys to battle, and I thought for the most part we did. The second half was better than the first half, so we’ve gotta build on that. And we’ve got one game left, so we’ve got a lot to do before next Tuesday,” Carlisle concluded with his team just six days away from heading to Los Angeles to open the season against the Lakers.