Thunder vs Mavericks: 2012 First Round Game 1 Preview

Mar, 5, 2012; Oklahoma City OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder power forward Serge Ibaka (9) fights for position against Dallas Mavericks power forward Sean Williams (32) during the fourth quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Richard Rowe-US PRESSWIRE

Records: The Dallas Mavericks (36-30) vs The Oklahoma City Thunder (47-19)

Time: 8:30 PM Central Daylight Time

Place: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

TV: ESPN

Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1), ESPN 103.3 KESN-FM

Enemy Blog(s): Mavs Moneyball, The Two Man Game

***

The Thunder welcome the Dallas Mavericks to OKC tonight to resume what was begun a little less than a year ago. If you recall (or cannot erase from memory), the Mavs knocked out the Thunder from the playoffs in definitive fashion in last season's Western Conference Finals. It is only fitting that OKC must face them again in order to see if the Thunder are ready to take the next step.

We've previewed this series as a whole, but here are a few things worth looking for tonight in game 1, the game where the two teams typically spend most of the time feeling each other out:

  • How will Kevin Durant set up against the Mavericks defense? One of the things that the veteran Mavs do extremely well is funnel the ball handler into traps and then use their quick hands to knock the ball free. Durant has proven to be susceptible to this defensive strategy, and he needs to be careful where he sets up on the court so he does not put the ball on the floor more than need be.
  • How will Russell Westbrook attack the Dallas defense? The Mavs play a very smart brand of defensive basketball, but on point they don't have anyone big enough or fast enough to stay in front of Westbrook. He needs to look to create scoring opportunities not just for himself but for his teammates.
  • Will OKC be locked in on the defensive boards? This is the easiest litmus test to see how focused the Thunder are playing. They controlled the boards last season when Tyson Chandler was on the floor, and they should be able to do the same now. The question is whether they adhere to proper rebounding fundamentals to keep players like Shawn Marion from getting easy put-backs.
  • How will OKC defend the Dallas shooters? The Mavs are missing J.J. Barea this year, and not having that extra shooter will make things a bit easier on OKC, but their main weakness is still defending the corner 3-ball.
  • Who will get Dirk Nowitzki in crunch time? My money is on Nick Collison, but it will be curious to see if Kevin Durant gets the call.
Prediction: We know the Thunder are slow starters, and while I feel like OKC will win this series, I think they're going to play one game where Dallas reminds them that talent alone does not win playoff games. Respectfully, I think tonight is that game.

Dallas 99, Thunder 95
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