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NBA Picks Thursday TNT: Oklahoma City Thunder at Dallas Mavericks
by Alan Matthews - 1/5/2011

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Kevin Durant No. 35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

I’ll be honest here: I will rarely write about a game that doesn’t already have official odds posted, but that is the case as of this writing on the opener of Thursday night’s NBA on TNT telecast between Oklahoma City and Dallas. But I’d rather write about two Western Conference contenders than the nightcap between Denver and the NBA’s worst team, Sacramento. So there you go. But of course there will be a line on the Thunder-Mavs eventually and I’ll try to predict off what I expect that to be.

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How the Teams Enter

This is the final game of a three-game road trip for Oklahoma City, and it hasn’t gone too well so far, as they were slaughtered at San Antonio (in which Kevin Durant was held to 16 points) and then lost at Memphis. The Thunder are now 10-2 in games following a loss. At least the Thunder are starting to get consistent contributions from James Harden, who has scored in double figures in a career-high 12 straight games.

Dallas has been without an injured Dirk Nowitzki for five games and has gone 2-3 (and ATS), losing their first three without Dirk and since winning two straight. On Tuesday night the Mavs beat Portland, 84-81, behind Jason Terry and Tyson Chandler. But the Mavs clearly miss Dirk and Caron Butler (more on both in a minute), as they have reached 100 points just once in the past five games.

Thunder at Mavericks Story Lines

This game is all about injuries for Dallas. Let’s start with Butler, who was the Mavericks’ third-leading scorer at 14 points and also averaged 4.1 rebounds in about 30 minutes per game. He was ruled out for the season after he had surgery Tuesday to repair a torn tendon in his right knee. Jason Terry has moved into the starting lineup for Butler, with the Mavs really starting a three-guard group of Jason Kidd, Terry and DeShawn Stevenson on Tuesday.

As for Nowitzki, he is very much up in the air for tonight’s game with a sprained right knee. Dirk was playing at an MVP level, averaging 24.1 points and 7.4 rebounds while shooting 54.5 percent from the floor.

"When Dirk's ready to play, we'll let everybody know. In the meantime, he's making gradual progress,'' Coach Rick Carlisle said.

Thus Carlisle likely will have to continue to mix and match his starting lineup, with Shawn Marion expected to stay in the first five. But the problem with Marion and Terry in the lineup is that the Dallas bench is practically invisible without those two.

This will be the Thunder’s final shot at Dallas this regular season. OKC already has lost two home games to the Mavericks, allowing an average of 107 points. The Dec. 27 103-93 Dallas win was the game in which Nowitzki hurt his knee and left early. But back then the Mavericks were rescued in large part by Butler’s 21 points. Durant had 28 in that one to lead the Thunder. They are 10-2 when Durant scores 30 or more points; 18-8 if he scores 25 points or more. Perhaps more important, Oklahoma City is 15-5 when Russell Westbrook scores 20 or more points and 8-8 when he doesn’t.

Thunder at Mavericks Betting Odds and Key Trends

One overnight line has Dallas as a 2.5-point favorite with the total at 195 but both certainly could be in flux when Nowitzki is officially in or out. It could drop this game to a ‘pick’em’ or even a slight Thunder lean. Dallas is just 8-10-2 ATS at home while the Thunder are 8-9 ATS on the road.

OKC is 3-7 ATS in its last 10 road games. But it is 5-0-1 ATS in the past six in Dallas.

The underdog is 9-2-1 in the last 12 meetings.

The ‘under’ is 6-1 in the Thunder’s past seven road games.

Dallas is 10-1-1 ATS in its past 12 vs. teams with a winning record.

Thunder at Mavericks NBA Picks

Obviously this all depends on Nowitzki, but most reports are he is probably out until the weekend. And even if he played he won’t be 100 percent. I think the Thunder will be motivated to avoid a sweep and will take this one. But you have to love the ‘under’ with Dallas’ two offensive stars likely out.

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