DALLAS — No one south of Thackerville considers Thunder-Mavericks an NBA rivalry. But that doesn't mean those of us on the north side of the Red can't hope.
Big Brother Dallas. Maverick Mark Cuban, one of only two owners to vote against bringing the franchise to Oklahoma City. A ballteam that is a thorn in Thunder flesh.
All the ingredients are there, except for Dallas interest.
Can't really blame Big D. OKC is the little metro that could. The Thunder is a new kid on the Western Conference block.
For the better part of a decade, the Mavs have been butting heads with the Spurs and Rockets and Jazz and Lakers. No such dues have been paid by your heroes. The next Thunder-Mavs playoff series will be the first, and the playoffs are where ill will swills.
But that could be this spring, which makes the Thunder's 99-95 victory Thursday night at American Airlines Center more vital than most.
Dallas had spanked the Thunder twice this already, and this was the regular-season finale. No way did the Thunder want to go 0-3 against Dallas, then get paired against the Mavs in the postseason.
“You want to have confidence against a team,” said Thunder forward Nick Collison. “You want to find things that are successful against that team.”
Of course, what's successful against the Mavs is playing them when Dirk Nowitzki (and Caron Butler) is out with a bum knee. But even sans two prolific scorers, Dallas led by 33-23 in the second quarter and 59-53 in the third.
But here's what the Thunder found. Ball movement on offense, tenacity on defense.
The Thunder rotated the ball against the Dallas zone; Kevin Durant scored 28 points, and seven of his 11 baskets were off assists, which is a good sign. Not a lot of one-on-one.
The Thunder played some of that exasperating defense in the first half. Dallas made eight of its first 10 shots and shot 58.5 percent in the first half. No Thunder starter so much as committed a foul in the first half. What were they doing; drinking pina coladas?