DALLAS _ They’re only one victory away from advancing to the NBA Finals for the second time in six seasons. But that’s the farthest thing on the minds of the Dallas Mavericks.
As they host Oklahoma City tonight at 8 at American Airlines Center, the Mavs are thinking about shutting down Kevin Durant, crowding Russell Westbrook and keeping Serge Ibaka off the boards. They know if they do these three things with a reasonable amount of success, they’ll win this Western Conference championship series and move on to pro basketball’s biggest stage.
“Any time you’re playing a team like that they’re going to come with their best shot, they’re going to be loose,’’ guard JJ Barea said of the Thunder. “We’ve just got to come with a lot of energy, use our crowd and take advantage of this opportunity we’ve got.’’
The Mavs lead this best-of-seven series 3-1. Only eight teams in NBA history have battled back from such a deep hole to win a seven-game series, so the Mavs feel pretty good about their chances of facing Miami or Chicago next week in the Finals.
But they don’t want to make hotel reservations just yet.
“Knowing them they’re going to come out so aggressive – Westbrook and Durant are going to come out real aggressive tonight,’’ Barea said. “We’ve just got to weather the storm and do like we did in Game 3.’’
The Mavs also have to do a better job on the boards than they did in Game 4, when OKC hammered them to the tune of 55-33. Less boards for the Mavs means more opportunities at the basket for the Thunder.
“It’s challenging for our big guys (to grab rebounds) this series because they’re out helping a lot on the perimeter,’’ coach Rick Carlisle said. “But we’ve got to get them in a mode where they’re able to help, and then scramble back, and then we’ve got to finish off plays.
“A lot of the rebounds they’re getting are in free throw situations. Those are situations that are just basic ones that we’ve got to take care of.’’
Carlisle knows the Mavs can ill-afford to fall into the 15-point hole they faced with 5:06 remaining in Game 4 and expect to emerge with a victory. Because the Mavs were able to win that game in overtime, 112-105, that’s one of the few positives the coach got from Game 4.
“We really only had about 10 minutes of momentum (in Game 4),’’ Carlisle said. “The rest of it we’re getting handled pretty well.
“The reality is we have yet to throw a full 48-miunte game at these guys. Game 3 was our best game because it was our best defense, but tonight’s another opportunity to play better and if we’re going to be honest we need to play better.’’
Except for the Mavs’ 93-87 victory in Game 4, the Thunder has scored over 100 points in every game in this series. They have literally had their way with the Mavs on the offensive end, which is why there’s somewhat of a nervous energy lingering around the AAC.
“It’s going to be won on the defensive end,’’ center Brendan Haywood said. “They’re going to come out fighting for their lives, they’re going to come out with a lot of pride and a lot of anger about what happened the last game, and it’s going to be up to us to get it done defensively.
“Offensively, we know we can score points. But it’s going to come down to how well we do defensively.’’
The Mavs are 2-0 this year in close-out games. In the first round of the playoffs they led Portland 3-2, then won Game 6 in Portland, 103-96, to claim that series 4-2.
In the second round against the two-time defending NBA champion Los Angels Lakers, the Mavs held a commanding 3-0 lead then captured Game 4 at home, 122-86, for a perfect 4-0 sweep.
Now comes tonight’s contest against a Thunder team that will be difficult to eliminate because they have so many offensive weapons.
“Most teams in that situation have a lot of pride on the line,’’ Haywood said. “And no one wants to look bad and no one wants to get their pride stomped on.’’
Which is why the Mavs are cautiously optimistic about closing out this series tonight.
-- Dwain Price
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