By Randy Renner, Senior Writer
At the end of March the Dallas Mavericks were struggling. Chandler Parsons was lost for the season with an injury and the Mavs were stuck in a 7-13 rut leading to a 35-38 record.
If something didn’t change the season would be over in two weeks and there would be no playoff run.
During that 20-game stretch Dallas was scoring a lot of points, at least 100 a game in 17 of those 20. But the Mavs were giving up more than they were getting, able to hold opponents in those 20 games under 100 just twice.
Then on March 28th in Denver the Mavericks hit the brakes instead of the gas, the points on both sides of the scoreboard dropped and the wins added up quickly.
In the nine games from March 28th through the end of the season Dallas scored less than 100 points seven times and held opponents under 100 in all nine games leading to a 7-2 record.
With Parsons out and other injuries adding up the Mavericks took a little air out of their game and inflated their win total.
The Thunder beat Dallas four times during the regular season but none of those wins came during the time the Mavericks were cratering nor the time they were digging themselves out.
But Kevin Durant and company know what to expect from Dallas and they vow to be ready.
“Yeah they’re gonna try and slow it down on us but we’ve played that game before, we know that game,” he told reporters after OKC’s Thursday practice. “We just gotta be prepared for it and play extremely hard. At the end of the day it just comes down to playing basketball.”
“They’re gonna try to put us in tough spots,” said veteran forward Nick Collison. “A lot of it is Dirk (Nowitzki) pick-and-rolls where you have to be able to help on the ball handler when he turns the corner but you don’t wanna give Dirk a lot of space either.”
Collison also pointed out something else about the Mavs, “they don’t beat themselves.”
The Thunder have had some problems in that area not only lately but off and on all season long.
“For us we gotta be the same (as Dallas) we can’t beat ourselves by making too many mistakes.”
When head coach Billy Donovan walked into the media group the first question he was asked was about solving the turnover troubles.
“I think stuff like that is fixable,” he said. But try as he might the problem still keeps coming up.
“It puts an enormous amount of pressure on our defense. When we’ve been in the half-court we’ve done a really, really good job defensively,” he noted. “The challenge comes when you turn the ball over it’s really tough to balance the floor. But yeah I think it’s fixable and I think we can do a better job.”
Live ball turnovers, especially with the way the Thunder like to play, are sometimes just part of the deal. Something you have to live with. The head scratchers are the silly ones. Stepping out of bounds before you take a corner three, throwing a pass into the crowd or throwing a pass or dribbling into a crowd of opposing players.
Those are the kinds that can drive you nuts and make you shake your head.
“Certainly making good choices and good decisions with the ball, not being careless, those kinda things are something we can improve on.”
The Thunder spent almost two hours studying film and then working on their practice court today and by all accounts the guys were locked in and focused on the task at hand.
“Our practice today seemed great,” Collison said. “The preparation was great.”
The Thunder will be back in the practice gym Friday to fine tune their game plan for the Mavs and then be ready to make adjustments as needed.
“I’ve never had the philosophy or the belief that we’re just gonna do what we do and we’re not gonna do anything else different because this is what we’ve practiced for 82 games, I don’t believe in that,” Donovan said.
“I think against any team this time of year you’re always gonna face something that’s gonna put you in a bind and you’re gonna have to go away from what you’ve done. So maybe 80 percent is your core package but that other 20 percent you’ve gotta be flexible enough to try and do some different things.”
The Mavericks already pulled that rabbit out of their hat toward the end of the regular season, now we’ll see what Donovan and the Thunder have up their sleeves.