OKC Must Win Monday


One of the biggest surprises so far in a surprise-filled playoffs was the Dallas Mavericks jumping out to a 35-12 lead in the first third of Saturday Night's Western Conference Championship series game in Oklahoma City.

*The crowd in Oklahoma City is typically a tremendous 'sixth man.'

*The Thunder were coming off a confidence building win in Dallas that had given them home court advantage in the series.

*Russell Westbrook was going to have a chip on his shoulder after being benched in the fourth quarter of Game Two. Westbrook with a chip on his shoulder can be a dangerous force to reckon with.

*All of the 'Dirk is UNSTOPPABLE' talk had slowed down since Oklahoma City had obviously figured out a way to neutralize his impact in Game Two.

If there was ever a time that Oklahoma City, led by Westbrook, was going to start a game hitting on all cylinders…it was in Saturday Night's Game Three at home. Instead, the Dallas starters grabbed the game by the throat from the outset. When OKC coach Scott Brooks went to his bench, they only made it worse. A stunned crowed was staring at a 23-point deficit before they had even figured out whether they'd have a hot dog or nachos at halftime.

And, what's amazing was…

*The crowd had showed up as fired up as ever, ready to be a sixth man.

*Dirk Nowitzki had one of his worst game in weeks, keyed by defensive adjustments that crowded him when he had the ball, and pushed him away from the basket when he didn't.

*Russell Westbrook would ultimately be the team's leading scorer while leading a valiant comeback effort that fell short.

All that, and the game story was still OKC trying to slowly get up from an early round knockdown…and ultimately failing to undo the damage that the poor start inflicted.

Let's run the numbers and see what may be in store for tonight's Game Four…

Dallas leads 2-1
Vegas Line: Oklahoma City by 4, total of 195.5

The line has moved up to Oklahoma City by 4 because so many people bet the bounce back…and because the public loves betting on affordable home favorites in must-win situations. Oddsmakers posted a higher number in self defense against that action. Before tip-off, the line may scoot even higher. Let's not forget though that Dallas has only failed to cover ONE pointspread so far in the entire postseason. They were 5-0-1 ATS vs. Portland (or 6-0 ATS if you were a Dallas fan who shopped around). They were 4-0 ATS against the Lakers. They're now 2-1 ATS in this series. That's 11-1-1 or 12-1 through a lucky 13 games for Maverick backers.

The total has fallen three points from the Game Three closer. And, frankly, oddsmakers have been chasing their tail in this series from the get-go.

Game One Total: 194.5
Actual Scoreboard Total: 233 (Over by 38.5)

Game Two Total: 200
Actual Scoreboard Total: 206 (Over by 6)

Game Three Total: 198.5
Actual Scoreboard Total: 180 (Under by 18.5)

We're back close to where we started after a set of games that's been bouncing all over the place. We'll be working with our sources to learn what we can about coaching and lineup adjustments for the fourth game. Clearly there's money to be made on the totals if you're in synch with the flow of the series. Vegas has been out-of-sync with so much in these playoffs that the money has literally been there for the taking.

Shooting Percentage: Dallas 44%, Oklahoma City 37%
Three-Pointers: Dallas 7/21, Oklahoma City 1/17
Free Throws: Dallas 14/18, Oklahoma City 32/36
Rebounds: Dallas 37, Oklahoma City 45
Turnovers: Dallas 12, Oklahoma City 14
Vegas Line: Oklahoma City by 3, total of 198.5
Notebook: The 3-point and 1-point categories cancelled out exactly. Dallas was +18 from behind the arc because Oklahoma City was ice cold. But, Oklahoma City did such a great job of attacking the basket and earning free throws that they were +18 in makes from the charity stripe. Oklahoma City's rebounding edge didn't help them that much because some of those were offensive grabs that just led to additional missed shots. Dallas was more consistent inside, and made a couple of fewer turnovers. Ultimately, that was the difference-maker. Though, it can be hard to put too much weight on stat categories once a game is almost out of reach so early. Dallas found themselves settling for too many jumpers rather than attacking the basket for a few stretches. Oklahoma City got sloppy with turnovers when they were frantically trying to catch up.

Through three games, we'd rank the category edges this way:

Overall Shooting: Toss-up, both teams have scoring options and are roughly even in percentage.

3-Pointers: Dallas is one of the best teams in the league in this stat, and will hold the edge in this series. And, they don't need OKC to go 1 of 17 to hold that edge! The Thunder must try to neutralize an expected disadvantage in this stat. They can't expect to win it.

Free Throws: Oklahoma City is one of the best teams in the league in this stat, and is very likely to hold a big edge overall unless the refs try to protect Dirk Nowitzki in later games or something.

Rebounds: Oklahoma City is up for the series, and deserves the nod in this stat. It's not a dominating edge. But, to this point, you can't say rebounding is a toss-up. Slight edge to OKC.

Turnovers: Dallas has won all three games by slight 12-13, 12-14, and 12-14 margins. That's consistency. And, a rare case of Dallas holding an edge over an opponent. Russell Westbrooks periodic frustrations show up most clearly in this stat. Dallas has done a good job of frustrating him.

That's pretty close all things considered. What's left?

Home Court: Dallas has regained that edge with their road win Saturday Night.

Depth: Dallas had fresher legs coming into the series, and can divide its minutes up among scoring threats more efficiently. The longer this series goes, the more that helps Dallas. And, we're already at a point now where the best Oklahoma City can hope for is a six-game series.

The Mavericks are rightly favorites to advance all things considered. But, the category breakdowns are close enough that Oklahoma City still has a chance if Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook can avoid wearing down. Tough to ask given the seven-game war they just went through with Memphis.

What about TONIGHT? Will Oklahoma City bounce back strong once again and get the money? Will Durant and Westbrook at least be fresh enough TONIGHT to play well and get the job done? Will Dallas relax with a lead, as they did at home with dire consequences in Game Two? Our sources are hot on the trail of key information. Our statheads are crunching all the numbers. Our historians are looking over every Game Four situation in history where the home team had to win to even the series. Our computer programmers are running their simulations around the clock because computers never sleep. And, our Wise Guy connections are letting us know what the smart money and what the dumb money are doing on both the side and the total.


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Boston at Cleveland (national TV tonight on ESPN!)
Tampa Bay at Detroit
Toronto at NY Yankees
Oakland at LA Angels
Cincinnati at Philadelphia
NY Mets at Chicago Cubs (starts Tuesday)

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