If Lawler’s Law was written on the original, imaginary NBA constitution, the Oklahoma City Thunder and Dallas Mavericks would have ended in a tie.
Neither cracked the century mark on the scoreboard Wednesday, which made me wish the game had worked with a running clock.
Rest, which Oklahoma City had plenty of after experiencing its first three-day break of the season, can do the body good. What rest can also do: Make your game look rusty as heck.
The Mavericks won 87-78, giving the Thunder its worst performance of the season in Dallas on Wednesday night.
First Takeaway: If You Ain’t First, You’re Last
The Thunder are notoriously not known as a fast start type of team this season while the Mavericks are. You know what you get when you cross a slow starting team with a fast start type of team in Dallas?
A back-and-forth game, obviously, which is what happened in the first quarter of Wednesday's game.
According to one stat, all the Mavericks needed to do is win the first quarter and they were theoretically home free.
Dallas hung on to a two-point lead, but it was all it needed for the possibility of an improving an obscurely perfect record. The Mavericks were able to fulfill that possibility after all. They are now 15-0 this season when it leads after the first quarter of action.
The San Diego State men’s basketball program had its own incredible streak that spanned a greater amount of time during the previous decade. When the Aztecs held a lead in any game with five minutes to play, it won every such game – yes, every game – between January 2010 and February 2016. In all, SDSU won 164 of these games in a row.
Averaged statistics can help us reasonably conclude how a player or team can perform, but stats can also be incredible because it can detail and defy what an average performance could mean. It’s why 20 or 30-game hitting streaks (or more) are fun to follow in baseball.
It’s unlikely Dallas’ first quarter winning streak will span years like the Aztecs’ streak in the 2010s. However long it lasts, it’d be exciting to see the lines blurred between average performance and statistical anomaly in sports once again.
Second Takeaway: Worst Comes To Worst
An argument can be made that Wednesday’s game was not only the worst offensive game of the year but the team’s worst overall in 2020-21.
When figuring out if tonight’s game was indeed the worst, is scoring the only factor in the evaluation? The short answer is no.
Oklahoma City’s previous scoring low this season (80 points) happened in a loss to the New Orleans Pelicans back on New Year’s Eve. What also made Dec. 31 the worst offensive performance and overall game of the season was scoring just seven points in the fourth quarter and losing the game by 33 to a Pelicans team that currently sits one full game ahead of the Thunder in the Western Conference standings.
But here’s why I contend tonight was OKC’s worst of the season. The season-low of 78 points makes it plain, but this is a mere flesh wound.
Oklahoma City knew the Mavericks would be without Luka Doncic, one of the league’s most gifted talents, while also enjoying the fortune of having Al Horford on the front end of a back-to-back. This should have meant a more concerted all-around effort on the part of the Thunder, and it didn’t.
Although OKC scored 80 against the Pels, the Thunder somehow made 15 3-pointers and dished out 24 assists on its 30 made baskets. An 80 percent assists-to-made field goals rate is incredible to achieve as a team. Now, contrast the New Year’s Eve game with Wednesday night, when OKC turned the ball as often (13) as it tallied assists (13).
OKC has owned clear advantages in categories like points in the paint, rebounding and scoring defense this season, but the Mavericks had the edge in every one of those categories from start to finish.
Dallas made 1-of-19 3-point attempts in the first half and still led Oklahoma City by seven points at halftime. How was that even possible?
If there is a positive to take away from tonight, it’s that the Thunder somehow hit a deeper, darker rock bottom. In a way, this was pretty hard to do.
It should be only up from here.
Third Takeaway: U.S. Against The World
We will have truncated All-Star festivities this Sunday in Atlanta with as many events crammed into a day as is humanly (or league-ly) possible.
This year, the Skills Challenge and 3-Point Contest will precede the All-Star Game on Sunday night. What about the Dunk Contest, you might be asking? No problem! The Dunk Contest will serve as the halftime entertainment during the All-Star Game itself.
The abbreviated schedule also means there won’t be a Rising Stars Challenge game featuring the best young players from the United States and the best young players from around the world. Despite there being no game, NBA assistant coaches selected 10 players for each team and the league released the rosters on Wednesday just for grins.
Lo and behold, you’ll find two Thunder players, Canada’s Luguentz Dort and France’s Theo Maledon, who would have theoretically suited up for the World team.
Dort has certainly made a name for himself in the last year-plus with his all-world level defense (pun very much intended), but considering his five weeks as a starting guard, Maledon’s selection is a mild surprise.
One year ago, before the world as we knew it was knocked on its side, Maledon was planning to finish the Euroleague season that would have bled well into the month of June and, therefore, impede a serious chance for him to prepare for the 2020 NBA Draft. Due to the pandemic cutting the European basketball season short, planning for that year’s draft became a more viable option.
He was a projected first round pick by Bleacher Report and other outlets leading up to the draft, but Maledon’s international reputation now and when he fortuitously fell to the Thunder early in the second round, is still well-known. Maledon entered Wednesday fourth-best amongst all rookies in assists per game (3.3).
In an unrelated note (to Maledon, anyway), he and Dort were named theoretical World teammates of New Orleans guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker. Alexander-Walker is not only a fellow Canadian countryman of Dort’s, but he is also a cousin of OKC’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
What fun it would have been to see Maledon, Dort and Alexander-Walker on the floor together.
Maybe a little spooky, too.