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?
But the Mavs made just 13 of 38 shots in the second half, and that's counting DeShawn Stevenson's three 3-pointers in the final 67 seconds, after the game was decided.
“We only played defense in the second half,” coach Scotty Brooks said. “That's one thing I tell our guys. It takes 48 minutes of that type of effort, and it's hard to do, but you have to do it.”
The arena did not bubble with electricity. Until Barry Switzer coaches the Thunder or these teams meet in a playoff series, the Oklahoma City on those blue jerseys won't incite rancor.
Don't look now, but the latter could happen soon, as in April 2011. Which would be bad news for the Boomers, Dirk or no Dirk, since Tyson Chandler seems to get every rebound against OKC (46 in three games, including 18 Thursday night).
No way did the Thunder need to get swept by Dallas, then have to deal with the Mavs in a seven-game series.
Late last March, the Thunder waxed the Lakers after going 0-3 against LA. That gave the Thunder some playoff footing, and OKC stunned the league while losing a rousing six-game series.
“That's so far down the road,” Brooks said of a possible Mav playoff series. “I know one thing, Dallas is a very tough team to match up with. If that happens, we just have to get better.”
If that happens, the Thunder-Mav rivalry is born.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.