DONUT 1: No way to know how much to make of Rick Carlisle's absence tonight -- Rick is missing the game due to his recovery from minor knee surgery -- until it plays out.
Dwane Casey will move up one chair and not miss a beat? Terry Stotts will do the same alongside?
That's a logical conclusion, especially given how instrumental those two men already are in the operation of this team. I am certainly a "Casey guy.'' ... and I the players I've talked to about his work share that view.
But is there a "Carlisle Factor'' that will be absent tonight? Does a play not get called up that otherwise would've? Is what Rick installed for this game on Friday (before Saturday's off-day and Carlisle's missed Sunday) ready to roll without him?
We can only pretend to know today ... and I know damn well that if things don't go smoothly tonight, Rick's absence will be a topic of discussion on DB.com Boards.
DONUT 2: It's a pregame preview cliché of sorts – "Keys to the Game'' and all that – and here's why, at least as it applies to the Mavs:
What "Key to the Game'' is there on any Dallas night that Dirk Nowitzki? And how he plays and how he scores and who in the hell is going to stop him?
Back on Nov. 24, in the first meeting between Dallas and OKC, the Mavericks got 34 from Nowitzki in a 111-103 victory.
Key to the Game? Yeah, because The UberMan has averaged 33.8 points in his last eight against the Thunder.
Ro Blackman will present his "Keys to the Game'' tonight on the FS Southwest pregame show and I've no doubt they'll be insightful. But the part about Dirk almost goes without saying.
DONUT 3: No team is hotter than the Mavs, with a (relatively) modest four-game winning streak.
No team is hotter than the Mavs, with a chance tonight to win a 17th game in 18 tries.
But here's the stunner, I think, the streak that strikes fear … or, at least, should strike admiration from y'all: Dallas is an NBA-best 10-1 on the road. The Mavs have won seven straight on the road. If the Mavs make it eight? They'll match a franchise accomplishment not reached since mid-2002.
We're seeing something potentially very special here, kids. Don't miss out on appreciating it.
DONUT 4: The Mavs have scored 100 or more points in 14 of their last 17 games. How does that work tonight? Four or five guys in double-figures. Kidd being left uncovered at the arc on the weakside. An inspired T.Y. wanting to punish the team that temporarily wanted him. And Caron in the third. That oughta do it.
DONUT 5: These are some pretty good second-place teams here.
Each team has its own divisional challenges; the 23-5 Mavs are battling San Antonio (25-4) for supremacy in the Southwest Division while 21-10 OKC is jousting with Utah (21-9) for the Northwest Division title.
Meanwhile, the second-place team behind the Lakers in the Pacific Division is 13-16 Phoenix. And the second-place team behind the Bulls in the Central Division is 13-14 Indiana.
DONUT 6: The OKC gameplan? In large part, get to the free-throw line.
We think of the Mavs as an outstanding FT-shooting team, but this year they are settling for top-10 status at 78.3 percent. Meanwhile, OKC is at 84.4 percent.
That's No. 1 in the league.
They have 31.4 FT's attempted per game.
That's No. 1 in the league.
They have 26.5 FT's made per game.
That's – you guessed it – No. 1 in the league.
DONUT 7: A terrific chunk of no-nonsense flattery from Thunder coach Scott Brooks as he discusses the Mavs:
"They have veteran players who have no other agenda other than winning basketball games.''
There are slicker quips and sexier quotes out there. I mean, Charles Barkley would never say anything so solidly boring.
But it's truly flattering. And it's dead-on.
DONUT 8: Thanks to the sponsors who make what we do here possible!
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DONUT 9: Fun to watch tonight: Is Kevin Durant going to be OKC's best player? He hasn't been that in his career against Dallas, the touted MVP candidate having averaged 18.7 points on 37.4 percent shooting in 11 career games against the Mavs.
In a sense, though, this question isn't as much an indictment of KD as it is a compliment to Russell Westbrook, the point guard who is as much a foundation of this 21-10 club as anyone.
And I say that fully aware that Durant just scored 44 in a win over Denver and that he leads the NBA in scoring at 28.1 per.
DONUT 10: Check out my Mavs players' top 5 childhood Christmas gifts here.
DONUT 11: Dallas and Oklahoma City are but 207 miles apart, so they are in each others' basketball backyards.
To me, it feels sort of like a rivalry. … maybe an extension of the Red River Shootout, you know? But to the Thunder, s it a rivalry?
"They're so close that would be the logical choice," Thunder coach Scott Brooks recently told the OKC media, "But until you really face them and have a lot of heartbreak against them in playoff environments it's hard to say that there is a rivalry."
The Thunder is 3-5 all-time against the Mavs, but Brooks is right. OKC doesn't know heartbreak. …
At least not like we know heartbreak.
DONUT 12: We'll see you on TV tonight! … and remember to check back throughout the day for all the news on the Mavs and more!