Mavs/Thunder Series Preview
Dallas is finally the favorites. Can they live up to expectations?
Maurice Bobb / @ReeseReport
Jay-Z and Kanye West warned all newcomers to “Watch the Throne,” but the Dallas Mavs didn’t subscribe to that theory when they dethroned the defending champs, the L.A. Lakers, in a four-game sweep to reach the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2006.
And it took them seven games to do it, but the Oklahoma City Thunder finally put an end to the Cinderella run of the Memphis Grizzlies and earned the right to play Dallas for a shot at representing the West for the NBA crown.
The Mavs/Thunder series won’t break any viewership records. It’s not the match-up the people wanted to see. They wanted to see the Purple and Gold go for the three-peat, perhaps against its long-time rival Boston. They wanted the sexy match-up, but what they’re getting is an aging team of veterans still fighting the demons of the 2006 NBA Finals poised to battle a young team with two superstars that seem to be at war with each other for control of the team.
Compared to the Masterpiece Theater match-up of the Miami Heat vs Chicago Bulls series in the East, the WCF is as interesting as a pest, pool and lawn commercial. Even so, the match-up between Dallas and OKC just may be one heck of a basketball event that will live in Playoff lore for many years to come.
The Breakdown: It’s almost sacrilege to have to chip away at Jason Kidd’s legend here, but at the tender age of 38, he’s as slow on the court as a syrup pour and Russell Westbrook is fast as a bolt of lighting. Westbrook jumps higher, breaks down the defense and dunks with aplomb. But Kidd is no slouch either. He’s managed to reinvent himself into a spot up shooter on the perimeter and he’s still crafty enough to get the ball into the right person’s hands at the right time. Point guard play is critical in this series. If Westbrook can continue to play like he did in Game 7 against the Grizzlies, the Mavs are in trouble.
The Breakdown: While both of these guards have their roles on the team, they are basically filler until the second unit’s shooting guards—Jason Terry (Mavs) and James Harden (OKC)—come in and go to work. Stevenson plays serviceable defense and is a streaky shooter from downtown, while Sefolosha is OKC’s best perimeter defender.
The Breakdown: Shawn Marion must have taken the blue pill because he hasn’t been plugged into The Matrix since his days in Phoenix. And while his cringe-worthy jump shots and floaters still manage to find their way to the bottom of the net, he’s nowhere near deserving of being mentioned in the same sentence as Kevin Durant, the League’s leading scorer for the second straight year. Durant can basically score from his living room if he wanted to. Marion can play some great D in spurts, but he’s going to have to work overtime to stop Durant.
The Breakdown: Serge Ibaka’s hands may as well be webbed because he blocks field goal attempts like a fly swatter. But he’s going to have to channel Bill Russell to stop the German. Dirk Nowitzki’s ability to lean back like Fat Joe and fire off Js on his off foot makes him virtually unguardable. No one has been able to contain Nowitzki and Ibaka is not the guy who’ll change that.
The Breakdown: For whatever reason, analysts have overstated Kendrick Perkin’s importance as a player. Sure, he’s got a mean mug that could melt glaciers and he brings a certain level of toughness to a team’s interior defense, but he is only a pawn on the chessboard. Tyson Chandler is the anchor on defense for the Mavs. He single handedly changed the culture of the team on defense and protects the rim like it was the President of the United States. If Chandler stays out of foul trouble, OKC will have to resort to shooting jumpers.
Bench: Mavs vs Thunder
The Breakdown: Both of these teams rely heavily on their benches to spark the offense. Dallas has sharpshooters in Jason Terry and Peja Stojakovic and OKC has James Harden and Eric Maynor. Dallas also can throw Brendan Haywood into the game to clog up the middle and JJ Barea to infuriate the Thunder’s defense with his pick and rolls and the way he breaks down the opponent’s interior defense. Nick Collison comes off the OKC bench and really logs some important minutes on defense. He’ll more than likely be asked to defend Nowitzki. And if Harden is facilitating and knocking down Js, the Thunder will be rumbling.
Series prediction: For the first time in this year’s postseason, Dallas is the overwhelming favorite. If they had any say in it, they’d probably want to remain underdogs, because now there are expectations. The Thunder can be a very dangerous team when the offense goes through Durant. But lately, Westbrook has taken it upon himself to try to be the hero. If he continues to want to wear the cape, the Thunder will be in trouble. There are those who believe this is OKC’s time to get to the NBA Finals, but with the way the Mavs are clicking on all cylinders, it’s going to be mission impossible keeping them from a shot at redemption.
Mavs win 4-3.