2012-13 NBA Preseason Rankings

With the new NBA season starting in just six days, here’s a look at my preseason rankings for the 2012-13 season. Here’s the article covering the lower half of the NBA and here’s the article on the league’s top 15 teams.

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OKC Eyes Sweep

After two close games in Oklahoma City that easily could have gone Dallas’ way, the Thunder made a big statement in their 95-79 blowout of the Mavericks on the road in Game 3. Kevin Durant and company left no doubt that this series is over, putting Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs behind early and never letting up for the rest of the night.

So far, the series has been a close, hard-fought battle that translated into two wins for the Thunder because they had home-court advantage and played better down the stretch. Despite finishing with respectable numbers in scoring, Kevin Durant struggled with his shot in the first two games and Dirk Nowitzki was slightly more effective despite stellar defense from Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka. But in Game 3, everything went Oklahoma City’s way, as Durant had a proficient shooting night (11-for-15, 31 points) and the increasingly unforgiving defensive combo of Ibaka and Perkins absolutely shut Dirk down, holding him to 6-of-15 shooting and 17 points. Up until Game 3, Russell Westbrook had been carrying the Thunder offensively, James Harden’s contribution off the bench was essential and OKC’s backline needed to play good defense and contribute on the other end as well. But in Game 3, Durant finally found his shot and silenced the defending champs’ home crowd early, while Ibaka and Perkins roughed Dirk up and frustrated him by making him work for every touch.

It took him two games, but Kevin Durant found his shot and was on fire in Game 3.

Jason Terry’s lackluster performance didn’t help things for Dallas. Terry only put up 11 points, but what’s even worse is that mediocre performance still qualified him as one of only three Mavericks in double figures (Jason Kidd was the third with 12 points). The Mavs have Terry, Vince Carter and Ian Mahinmi coming off the bench along with Shawn Marion and Delonte West in the starting lineup. Because of how strong the Thunder’s staring lineup is, Dallas needs to somehow find an advantage in their depth (which is tough to ask considering that subpar lineup, but they still needed to find a way to do it). But even when OKC’s bench juggernaut James Harden struggled and only put up 10 points, they still had Daequan Cook coming in and hitting three 3’s while Derek Fisher tacked on 10 points of his own. You combine that with Kevin Durant finally shooting well, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka doing their thing and some great team defense on Dirk and it’s no wonder the Mavericks got blown out in a pivotal Game 3.

The Thunder are an extremely dangerous team when their jump shots are falling. I still have doubts about how effective they can be when those jump shots aren’t falling because they tend to keep shooting them anyway instead of driving to the basket, but for now, OKC looks primed for the first round sweep. Rick Carlisle might be able to rally his team to one home victory, but it’s too much to ask of these veterans who have been lackadaisical all year in their title defense to make this series competitive. Now that Kevin Durant seems to have found his shot again, it’s only a matter of time (I give it the 48 minutes it takes to play Game 4) until the Thunder advance and the reigning champs are done.

The defending champs weren’t ready to defend their title and will be sent home empty-handed soon.

Thunderstruck

For the second straight game, the Dallas Mavericks went toe-to-toe with the Oklahoma City Thunder and for the second straight time, they went home empty-handed. OKC grabbed a 2-0 series lead last night in a 102-99 victory, while the Mavs fell into a hole that’s going to be hard to climb out of even with the series shifting back to Dallas. But even with two crushing defeats that left the defending champs thunderstruck after giving the Thunder everything they could handle, don’t count them out just yet.

There were a lot of similarities between Games 1 and 2: Kevin Durant had another poor shooting night, the Mavericks hung around for the entire game before missing some key shots down the stretch, Oklahoma City pulled out a win in the game’s final minute, and physical play drew reactions from some star players. This time around however, it was Kendrick Perkins, not Serge Ibaka, who stepped up offensively for the Thunder with 13 points, all while guarding Dirk Nowitzki on the other end. Kevin Durant ended up with 26 points, but only because he took 17 shots from the field and 16 shots from the line. James Harden and Derek Fisher combined for 26 points to constitute the majority of the Thunder’s bench scoring. But the biggest game-changer of Game 2 was free throw shooting for the Thunder: OKC hit 37 of their 39 attempts at the line.

Russell Westbrook led the way for the Thunder and helped his team take a 2-0 lead.

On the Dallas side of things, Dirk had a much better shooting night and finished with 31 points, but missed two crunch-time shots he’s normally known for making. Jason Terry, who missed two 3-point attempts to send the game to overtime, had a quiet game overall, but the Mavs’ role players stepped up and kept Dallas close throughout the night. Jason Kidd, Delonte West and Shawn Marion all finished in double figures and Ian Mahinmi added nine points as well.┬áThe Thunder should be a little on edge with the series heading into Dallas; even with home-court advantage, OKC has barely edged out this dangerous seventh-seed both times and the Mavericks are giving them everything they can handle. With the series shifting south and an angry Dallas team that believes it should have won both games on the menu, the Thunder need to buckle up and prepare for a hostile home crowd. In Nowitzki and company’s minds, a few bounces here and there are all that separate them from having a 2-0 lead. And watching Rick Carlisle’s postgame interviews tells me one thing: the defending champs aren’t going down without a fight.

With that being said. OKC’s 2-0 lead in the series makes it nearly impossible for Dallas to advance. They’ve fallen short twice now and eventually, losing games like this will take a mental toll. And given the pure statistical odds of the Mavs winning four of the next five against this talented and young team, things aren’t looking good. But taking into account how angry the Mavericks are right now, and factoring in Dirk Nowitzki’s postseason mentality, don’t be surprised if Dallas comes out with a little competitive fire in Game 3.

Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs are a little thunderstruck right now but that anger will carry over into Game 3 at home.