GAME PREVIEW


Paris Lawson



Recentered, Refocused and Ready for Dallas

Date: Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Tip-Off Time: 7:30 p.m. CT

Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma

Radio: 98.1 FM WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network


Thunder Status

After a prolonged and much-needed three-day break between games, the Thunder returns to action with a back-to-back to close out the first half of the regular season. OKC had played nine games in a matter of 14 days before the small break which allowed the group to recharge and recenter in order to close out the rest of the first half as strong as possible.

“It's been great. It’s always good to get a little break, kind of get a mental refresh and get to be home with your family,” said Thunder guard Kenrich Williams. “I think it’s real, real good for the team. Just to get a couple day’s break and then come back and ramp it back [on Wednesday].”

In the last two games, OKC has received a boost from its second unit with the help of its newest addition in Ty Jerome. The Thunder recalled the guard from the OKC Blue on Thursday and he immediately made a splash off the bench. In his last two games, his first in a Thunder uniform, Jerome averaged 12.0 points, 4.5 assists while shooting 52.6 percent from the field. Along the way, the second-year guard tied is career highs with seven assists on Friday and points with 15 on Saturday.

“Ty’s a great basketball player, a really high IQ and so felt like we just really meshed together well,” said Thunder rookie point guard Théo Maledon. “Even without playing a lot, I think we understood each other and where we need to be on the court or how we can facilitate the offense. It’s really been great and I’m looking forward to improving that connection.”

Similarly, the past two contests have been fruitful for the Thunder’s second year forward in Darius Bazley who has found his offensive stride as of late averaging 20.0 points, 8.0 rebounds while shooting 57.1 percent from the field in that time frame. Most recently, he notched a new season high with 22 points against Atlanta on Saturday.

“The best thing about how he's played has just been how he's handled the controllable things,” said Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault following Saturday’s game. “He's learning how to become a consistent player and what that looks like for him and what type of style of play is sustainable for him and I thought he brought that energy again [on Saturday].”

Opponent Breakdown

With its win over Orlando on Monday, the Mavs have broken above .500 for the first time in over a month and its matchup with OKC on Wednesday is the last before its nine-day All-Star break begins. Dallas has regained its rhythm as of late as it has won 8 of its last 10 matchups. In that time span, the Mavs two-time All Star Luka Dončić has averaged 31.7 points per game, 8.0 assists and 7.6 rebounds. In Dallas’ last game, just one day after his 22nd birthday, the 6-foot-7 guard came up one assist shy of his eight triple-double this season with 33 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists.

Dallas center, Kristaps Porzingis also contributed to Dallas’ win over Orlando on Monday with 17 points. The game marked the big man’s second game back after missing three with low back tightness.

Off the bench, it has been Jalen Brunson who has provided the biggest spark for Dallas. His 24 points on Monday lifted the Mavs bench to outscore Orlando’s 50-37 and also marked a career-high mark as a reserve for the third-year guard. Over the past eight games, Brunson has recorded double figures in every contest while ranking fourth in both points (16.9) and field goal percentage (57.0 percent).

Matchup Focus

Two of the highest scoring members of the 2018 draft class will be leading their respective teams on Wednesday ­– Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Luka Dončić. The former teammates in the NBA’s 2020 Rising Stars game both rank in the top 10 among third year players in multiple categories including points per game where SGA ranks fourth with 23.2 points per game while Dončić holds the top spot with 28.6.

Both players are shifty, crafty guards who can generate as easily on the drive as they can on the pass. In fact, Dončić and SGA rank first and third respectively in points per game created by field goals and assists.

Stat to Watch

Bench Points — Both the Thunder and the Mavericks are coming off of games where their benches have recorded 50-plus point performances. Three different Thunder reserves scored in double figures: Jerome (15), Isaiah Roby (15) and Kenrich Williams (12). Meanwhile Dallas’ second unit, fueled by Brunson, has recorded 50-point scoring performances in two of its last four contests and five of its last nine.

Thunder Trend

The motto for the Thunder all season long has been its zero-zero mentality heading into each and every challenge. After a tough loss, like the one the Thunder experienced on Saturday, or even after a strong performance that results in a win, OKC has made it a habit to leave the results in the past but take the lessons along the way.

This mentality has allowed the Thunder to post consistent bounce back performances after losses of 20 points or more and is 4-1 in such games this season. After dropping its most recent game to Denver by 30 on Saturday, look for the Thunder to enter into American Airlines Arena level-headed and ready to take on the challenge ahead of it.

“It's a credit to our players. They do a great job of coming in every day and just attacking the day and attacking the program, whatever that is,” said Daigneault. “The season, as quickly as it comes in the amount of games that there are, requires you to recenter after every game regardless of the outcome, and our guys have done a great job of that. They've put their feet back on the ground and gotten back to work and I think we've made progress in a lot of areas, both as a team and with individual players as a result of them keeping their head down and keeping their feet on the ground and doing that. I would expect [Wednesday] to be no different.”

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