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Mavericks Must Improve Defensively To Command NBA Western Conference Finals

Monday evening, the Dallas Mavericks have the opportunity to get one step closer to returning to the NBA Finals after a five-year absence when they visit the Oklahoma City Thunder. With homecourt advantage and a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series, Dallas' odds of advancing at present stand at 84 percent, according to ESPN analyst John Hollinger. But it's important for Dallas not to take the Thunder for granted.

The series between the teams so far has featured high-octane offenses, with Dallas and Oklahoma City scoring 114.05 and 112.05 points per 100 possessions, respectively, according to NBA StatsCube. And the Thunder have managed that figure despite shooting 29.4 percent on three-pointers. Credit Dallas coach Rick Carlisle for designing a defense which eliminates the corner three-point shot; through the three games, the Thunder have managed to takes just eight such threes.

Though the Mavs have succeeded in that aspect of perimeter defense, they're still vulnerable off the dribble, which one might expect of a veteran team without much athleticism. Remarkably, the Thunder have averaged 35 free-throw attempts in this series, and have converted them at 85.7 percent. Oklahoma City stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook draw plenty of fouls regardless of the opponent; it's up to Dallas to limit their chances.

Game 4 tips off at 8 p.m. Central on ESPN. Check out NBA TV's Game Time preview and visit Mavs Moneyball for more.

Photographs by jamesbrandon, jdtornow, phlezk, flygraphix, mcdlttx, tomasland, and literalbarrage used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.