Though it's not a real game, Sunday night's contest against the Oklahoma City Thunder is the Dallas Mavericks' first in franchise history as defending champions, but the team they'll trot out in front of their home crowd will look very different form the one that took down the Miami Heat in six games in June for the NBA title.
The biggest difference on the Mavs' roster will be the absence of center Tyson Chandler, who signed a big free agent contract with the New York Knicks. His roster spot was filled by small forward Lamar Odom, who found his way to Dallas in a trade with the Los Angeles Lakers in the fallout of the Chris Paul trade saga. The Mavs also welcome Vince Carter after he was waived by the Suns, though he will come off the bench. Brendan Haywood will replace Tyson Chandler in the starting lineup.
The Thunder, on the other hand, have a roster that's identical to last year's, the one that lost to the Mavericks in the Western Conference Finals. They only figure to improve as their still young core — Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Serge Ibaka — improves, and they grow more accustomed to playing with their center, Kendrick Perkins, who came over from the Boston Celtics along with Nate Robinson in a midseason trade for Jeff Green. That's an athletic starting five, and one that will again be among the most exciting in the league.
The two teams will square off on NBA TV Sunday at 7:30 p.m. ET in Dallas. Their rematch will be Tuesday, Dec. 20 at 8 p.m. ET.
There are two other games on the schedule, but they're televised locally:
Boston Celtics at Toronto Raptors, 1 p.m. ET: The Celtics play in their first game since learning Jeff Green will miss the entire 2011-12 season with a heart condition.