Sometimes, an NBA team has to take a look in the mirror, and decide what is more important – the next game … or the next few games? After a grueling overtime slugfest against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers just 24 hours earlier, I say the Mavs made the tough, right call. ... and then lost, 108-89 at OKC on Wednesday.
“I think we have a team of competitors,'' said Dallas coach Rick Carlisle, maybe speaking not only of the guys who did play but also about the starters who weren't pleased they didn't. "We didn’t quite have enough firepower, but (the replacement gang) banged away. We got down by 29 and got it down to 12 or 14, and (the Thunder) had to bring their starters back in. You’ve just got to keep playing, and they did. And I’m proud of the way our guys competed.”
Dallas decided to rest all five starters, including late scratch Zaza Pachulia who sat due to a sore Achilles, giving the Mavs host of young players some real game-time action against one of the NBA’s best teams. A starting lineup that included J.J. Barea, Ray Felton, Jeremy Evans, Charlie Villanueva and Javale McGee took the court for Dallas, with all of the Thunder’s regular starters suiting up on their end.
From the opening tip, the Thunder dominated this basketball game. The Mavs simply did not have the firepower to keep up with the Northwest Division leaders on either end of the floor. From there, the game went pretty much as expected for both sides, minus a scuffle midway through the second quarter that resulted in Charlie V’s ejection, that is…
As Russell Westbrook was driving to the basket, he and Barea got tangled up ... and then JJB's feisty nature and Westbrook’s volatile nature took over. Seemingly throwing a punch at Barea, Westbrook lost his cool, causing Charlie V to come to the defense of his point guard. After the frustration of being grabbed and pushed by other OKC players, Villanueva got heated as well -- in a notably violent manner, via the choke -- and was eventually ejected from the game.
Said JJB: "I fouled him and he went crazy and threw his arms all over the place."
Said Charlie V: “I will always stand up for a teammate. That’s just my makeup.''
After things settled back down, The Thunder took further control of the game. They were lead by Kevin Durant’s 29 points and 10 rebounds, while Westbrook was held scoreless with seven rebounds and eight assists after being ejected in the first half. Barea would lead the Mavs in scoring with 18 points and six assists in 31 minutes. ... and would maybe, due to his under-the-skin D on Westy, provide Dallas with a defensive option vs. OKC going forward.
Ridiculous? Well, how many other options does the Mavs defense possess?
One bright spot for the Mavs was the play of Salah Mejri, who finished the game with 17 points and nine rebounds in the first real NBA action of his young career. After spending a majority of the season in Frisco with the Texas Legends, Mejri got his opportunity with Pachulia resting, and took advantage of it. Despite the circumstances, the Mavs front office brass has to be encouraged by what they saw from the Tunisian big man.
In the end it was an ugly game that quite honestly could have been much uglier. Maybe the mission coming in was to get out of Oklahoma City with little to no newsworthy stories (though it's understandable that some in Mavs Nation might wish the mission was, you know, to actually win) ... and outside of the Charlie V incident, the Mavs accomplished that on Wednesday. And with the game against Chicago approaching, the real road trip for the Mavs -- "real'' meaning, a "realistic shot at being competitive'' -- begins on Friday night at the United Center.