The Oklahoma City Thunder are recognised as one of the best young teams in the NBA. The scoring champion Kevin Durant and the rising star Russell Westbrook are surrounded by teammates who look ready to jump through the arena at any given moment.
Youth, however, usually requires learning curves, and the Thunder are looking very young against the wizened Dallas Mavericks as they prepare for tonight's Game 4 in the Western Conference Finals.
As talented as the Thunder are, their frailties are being exposed. And most have to do with their being a bit too new at all of this, if also a bit lacking in reliable depth.
When they had an opportunity to take control of the series as it moved to Oklahoma City on Thursday, the Thunder reacted like kids who had never seen the bright lights of a big game.
Their shot selection was poor, their defence vague and they were 23 down in the first half.
They eventually clawed their way back into the game by making 32 of their 36 free throws, which came as Westbrook stopped taking jumpers and drove to the rim.
They pulled to 84-78 with three minutes left, but on consecutive trips Westbrook and Daequan Cook launched ill-advised 3-point shots. Neither came close. Collectively the Thunderkids hoisted 17 3-point shots and made one.
Durant is the Thunder's No 1 player, and even while suffering through an off night (7 of 22 shooting), big-time players step up in the fourth quarter, which is exactly what Dirk Nowitzki did for the Mavericks. Dallas looked for him; he came through.
The Thunder acted like they did not know how to get the ball to Durant, or else he did not know how to get open. And with Westbrook's jumper failing and with James Harden held to seven points, the Thunder looked badly in need of a No 3 scorer who could create his own shot. Durant is 22, Westbrook is 22 and Harden is 21. The Thunder used one player over age 27 on Saturday, the 30-year-old Nick Collison.
The Mavericks have nine players over 30, including four starters. Tyson Chandler is their kid, at 28. And their veterans - Jason Kidd (38), Shawn Marion (33), Jason Terry (33), Nowitzki (32) - are all playing cool and under control, like a team that has been through the wars and is intent on advancing to the Finals. The Thunder look in need of seasoning.
This week in the NBA play-offs
Players of the week
• Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas. Has made 36 of 37 free throws while averaging 31.7 points and five rebounds against Oklahoma City.
• Derrick Rose, Chicago. Averaging 24.5 points and seven assists against Miami Heat.
• Dwyane Wade, Miami. Averaged 21 points and six assists in two games against the Chicago Bulls, while hitting 12 of 14 free throws.
Teams of the week
• Dallas. The Mavericks took a huge Game 3 at Oklahoma City in what many consider the NBA’s loudest arena.
• Miami. The Heat stunned the Bulls by stealing Game 2 in Chicago.
Duds of the week
• Kendrick Perkins, Oklahoma City. Was supposed to be the difference inside for the Thunder, but he is averaging five points and 4.6 rebounds against Dallas.
• Joel Anthony, Miami. The Heat’s starting centre has yet to score in 53 minutes of two games against Chicago.
• Thabo Sefolosha, Oklahoma City. Cannot seem to get open, averaging 4.6 points and 0.67 assists, and failing to provide needed outside scoring threat.
Series tied 1-1
Yesterday: at Miami, late
Tuesday: at Miami
Thursday: at Chicago
Saturday: at Miami-x
May 30: at Chicago-x
Dallas leads Oklahoma City, 2-1
Today: at Oklahoma City
Wednesday: at Dallas
Friday: at Oklahoma City-x
May 29: at Dallas-x