The West is close to being won and laymen not into glamour teams will flip channels. That will be their loss as the Western Conference finals has more than a few compelling caveats. The Dallas Mavericks received some grit in their spirit as evidenced by their surprising sweep against the Lakers. Some members of TSS’ crew wince at giving them their just due, but they’ve executed quite well as of late. Meanwhile, the Oklahoma City Thunder are the young media darlings spearheaded by their scoring machine in Kevin Durant. They’ve fed of their often publicized growing pains and have been one of the most fun teams to watch on both ends when they’re clicking.
The Thunder Vs. Mavericks should prove to be an eye catching showdown considering the squads matured in multiple ways, making their regular season series relatively moot. At this point, we bet you’re interested in seeing where TSS’ basketball pundits stand. S. Cadet’s convinced OKC will keep rolling. Ben Lampin’s riding with the Lone Star State’s trusted steads to take the conference chip. Will the last of the old guard stand tall or is the NBA’s new movement ready to take control? You be the judge as we outline our stances.
The Thunder have had their hardships and their work is definitely cut out for them against Dallas. Additionally, their instability down the stretch against Memphis gives detractors all the ammo they apparently need. Nevertheless, I’m still holding my ground by saying OKC in seven. Oklahoma’s a hard-headed, resilient ball club ready to match Dallas’ attack. Scott Brooks’s squad learned valuable lessons in maintaining team chemistry and playing a full 48 minutes via making short work of Denver and getting pushed to the limit by the Grizz Nation. Now it’s time to show off what they learned in their toughest match-up yet.
1. Kevin Durant Will Provide Match-up Problems Of His Own: There’s all this hoopla about some jump-shooting German giving OKC nightmares. Meanwhile, Kevin Durant probably has his eyes wide open when he looks at his potential defenders. Shawn Marion can’t stick players like he used to and good luck putting Brewer, Peja or, hopefully not, Dirk on him via a mismatch. Each of those dudes will either get J’ed, foul KD or get left in one way or another ad nauseum.
Here’s some food for thought. Durant managed to drop 26 ppg on 44% shooting against Memphis’s relentless perimeter defenders. Just imagine how well he’ll do against his latest opposition. Let’s not forget he gets to the line more frequently than Nowitzki as well and converts his free throws to the tune of 82% this post season.
2. OKC’s Bench Can Play To The Occasion: The James Harden-lead second string has done a good job maintaining intensity on both ends while the stars rest. Harden won’t be daunted by a shoot out with Jason Terry while Nick Collison makes the hustle plays Dallas’ supporting front court aren’t known to make. There’s been a lot of brouhaha over Peja’s reemergence against LA since he had his first good playoff series in who knows how long. Nevertheless, the jury’s still out on whether or not he can preserve his shooting prowess against the Thunder. The same can be said for J.J. Barea’s drive n’ dish tactics against LA. The Thunder are much better than the Lakers at playing the passing lanes so expect that aspect of his game to diminish.
3. OKC Has The Strong Edge On The Boards: Oklahoma City can make things much easier on themselves as long as they continue to attack the glass. They’ve done a good job of that thus far, especially considering Memphis’ tenacious pursuit of the rock. The Mavericks aren’t known as a strong rebounding team and it’ll show when Oklahoma City creates considerably more scoring opportunities off of the rebound discrepancy. OKC’s front line as well as their perimeter players are well versed in the art of the rebound. Expect the squad to use their knack for securing the ball to their advantage as they gain and stretch out possessions.
4. Russell Will Be A Force: Kidd may match Westbrook’s physical play style but the future HOF’er won’t withstand Westbrook’s first step. Russell’s already a high volume shooter with a penchant for attacking the paint. He’ll obviously need to defer to Durant in certain situations. It’d still be best for him to drive when the opportunity presents itself. Taking advantage of Jason’s well traveled legs will keep his trigger-happy mentality satiated as well as divert attention away from perimeter shooters for dime possibilities.
Westbrook ought to hone in on his game 7 performance against Memphis continuously to see how he should play against the Mavs. He didn’t shoot well, but his fair share of good looks got his teammates involved and attacked the boards aggressively, one of his often overlooked talents. Russ will definitely do efficient damage once he adapts his style and converts his field goals.
5. Youth In Transition: OKC’s already a sound half court squad. However, their open court prowess can counteract the Mavs’ old-man tempo. Cuban’s Clydesdales simply can’t keep up with OKC once they start running so don’t look surprised once the fast break opportunities start rolling. Scott Brooks and his coaching staff would be best suited to keep pushing the ball down the court before the Mavericks get set. LA’s failure to play uptempo ball, despite traditionally being a half court team, played a huge role in their embarassing shellacking at Dallas’s hands. The Thunder, on the other hand, built their reputation on high-octane basketball and are an extremely tough team to beat when they exploit the open court. They’re even tougher when they get easy transition points off of turnovers.
No questions about this one: Mavericks in six. The Thunder are talented, but their time is yet to come. Shouts to Willie P, our resident Mavericks fan. Congrats man, your boys are about to be headed back to the Finals.
6. Dirk Nowitzki: As Dirk Nowitzki goes, so go the Dallas Mavericks. The big German is the team’s leading scorer, one of its top rebounders and the man they go to with the game on the line. He’s the best-shooting big man of all-time, the 2006-07 MVP and, when you sum it all up, one of the best power forwards ever. And as a player with his skill should do, he’ll have a huge series against the Thunder. Just look at the guys who’re going to guard him.
Serge Ibaka, while long-limbed and athletic, has neither the savvy nor the size to hang with Nowitzki’s strength and bevy of moves in the low post. His backup, Nick Collison, may have successfully shut Zach Randolph down in Game 7. But his lack of height and athleticism will mean that he’ll struggle to stop Dirk, no matter how gritty and aggressive his defense is. Even Kendrick Perkins, while tough-as-nails and afraid of no one, will have issues guarding Nowitzki out on the perimeter, if it comes to that. In short, look for Dirk to dominate the Thunder.
7. Defense: No team has put up 100+ points against the Mavericks this postseason. Read that again. The Blazers, despite their multifaceted attack couldn’t do it. The Lakers – even with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and all the rest of their weapons – couldn’t do it. Win or lose, this team keeps the opposing team from putting big numbers on the scoreboard. Even in the regular season, the Mavericks were among the top ten of all major team defensive statistics, including opposing points against and opponent’s field goal percentage. It’s safe to say the Thunder haven’t faced a defense like this yet in the playoffs.
Plus, Tyson Chandler, the Mavericks starting center, is a stopper down low. After a sterling preventive season, he was recently named to the NBA All-Defensive Second Team. He’s by far the best defensive big man the Thunder have faced in these playoffs and will alter every shot in the lane when he’s in the game. Durant and Westbrook will get their buckets, but as a squad, the Thunder are going to have some issues putting up points in this series.
8. Rest: The Mavericks swept the defending champion Lakers with ease, last stepping onto the floor on May 8. The Thunder, on the other hand, were taken to the limit by the underdog Grizzlies, and had their last game just this past Sunday. If the teams were on equal rest, the Thunder would have a significant advantage, given their youth and athleticism. But with time to rest, the Mavericks will be step onto the court at full strength, despite their age. They may have to overcome some rust in Game 1, but the extra time off will do them good in the long run.
9. Experience: In the playoffs, experience is everything. As the pressure builds, young, untested teams tend to falter and fall away. Just look at the last few champions. In the past decade, one iteration or another of the Lakers, Celtics, Spurs, Heat and Pistons have walked away with the crown. Each of these teams was a veteran, battle-hardened squad. It’s very rare that a young team like the Thunder even gets this far. While the Thunder have a bit of experience under their belt, especially Kendrick Perkins, they pale in comparison to the Mavericks. I mean, Jason Kidd was playing in the NBA Finals before Kevin Durant was a teenager. This stuff is old news to the Mavericks.
10. Depth: Other than Dirk Nowitizki, the Mavericks have no standout players. Perhaps more importantly, they’re as deep as any team in the league. When the starters step off the floor for Dallas, they’re replaced by players as good, nearly as good or, in Jason Terry’s case, better than the guy who preceded them. In addition to Terry – who finished in second place in the Sixth Man of the Year voting and is the team’s second-leading scorer – they have J.J. Barea, who absolutely tore up the Lakers and Peja Stojakovic, who still can drop bombs from long-range like few others.
They’ll also play Brendan Haywood, who’s a serviceable big man and will defend the rim to the best of his ability. Corey Brewer is one of the few wings in the NBA with the length to match Kevin Durant. And although he might not even appear in the series, do not forget about Rodrigue Beaubois. Dude packs a heck of a scoring punch. If Rick Carlisle decides to deploy the lightning-quick guard against the Thunder, he could put up points in a hurry.