When I last wrote this title, it was May of 2011. The Thunder were the upstart young 4 seed that had eeked their way out of the second round after defeating the Memphis Grizzlies, and the Dallas Mavericks were the old vets, who had their culture changed by the defensively minded Tyson Chandler.
Now, it's April of 2012. And the Thunder have suddenly morphed into one of the title favourites, tearing through the regular season and only losing the first seed in the last few weeks due to some seriously amazing play from the Spurs. The Mavericks are now yesterday's news, written off because of a trade for an apathetic Lamar Odom and a loss in defensive focus.
But no one is quick to write the Mavericks off yet. They're still only a couple players away from their 2011 Championship team, and they still have a number of matchup advantages with the Thunder.
|Brendan Haywood||Kendrick Perkins|
|"Big Wood"||"Yung Hawg"|
|5.2 Pts, 6.1 Reb, 1.0 Blk, 0.9 TO||5.1 Pts, 6.6 Reb, 1.2 Ast, 1.1 Blk|
The Lowdown: These guys are almost mirror images of each other. The only difference is that the Mavericks don't use help defense in the paint, so Haywood doesn't get the blocks that Perk does. Both of them are in the lineup as terrific back-to-the-basket defenders, and both of them don't figure into their team's offense whatsoever.
Advantage: Push. These guys pretty much cancel each other out.
|Dirk Nowitzki||Serge Ibaka|
|21.6 Pts, 6.8 Reb, 2.2 Ast, 89% FT%||9.1 Pts, 7.5 Reb, 3.7 Blk, 54% FG%|
The Lowdown: Dirk Nowitzki is the league's best scorer at the power forward position. His signature turnaround jumper, his great three point shooting ability, and his size in the post presents an imposing offensive arsenal. Serge Ibaka is a on and off scorer who's most noted for his highlight reel dunks and great ability to get out in transition. He has a mid-range jumper, but it's hit and miss.
Advantage: Mavericks. Ibaka can't guard Nowitzki. He's usually too focused on providing help defense, and he's not quick enough to block Nowitzki's shot. 9 times out of 10, Dirk will get his due.
|Shawn Marion||Kevin Durant|
|10.7 Pts, 7.4 Reb, 2.1 Ast, 1.1 Stl||28.0 Pts, 8.0 Reb, 3.5 Ast, 1.2 Stl|
The Lowdown: Shawn Marion is the Mavs best defender, and a remnant of the high-scoring Phoenix Suns. Against the Thunder, he'll most score on backdoor cuts and the occasional drive or three. Durant is the leagues best scorer, and can't be stopped by any defender.
Advantage: Thunder. Marion will get a few points, but he'll never equal or slow the production of Durant.
|Vince Carter||Thabo Sefolosha|
|10.2 Pts, 3.4 Reb, 2.3 Ast, 0.9 Stl||4.8 Pts, 3.0 Reb, 0.9 Stl, 47% 3PT|
The Lowdown: Vince Carter is no longer Half-Man Half-Amazing, but he's still a decent scorer who can get his just due when it matters. He can still drive the lane with the best of them, and his shot is about par for the course in terms of the NBA. He'll let his head get to him though, and can make some bad calls on the floor. Thabo Sefolosha is one of the league's best defenders, with the size to hold his own against the best of guards and the speed to keep up with most matchups. His offense is limited to threes, as he hardly ever drives the ball.
Advantage: Mavericks. Vince Carter may be old, but he's much more of a potential X-Factor, especially when compared to Sefolosha's 0fers.
|Jason Kidd||Russell Westbrook|
|"Ason" (Has no J)||"Honey Badger"|
|6.2 Pts, 4.1 Reb, 5.5 Ast, 1.7 Stl||23.6 Pts, 4.6 Reb, 5.5 Ast, 1.7 Stl|
The Lowdown: Jason Kidd has great hands, even into his old age. He averages around 6 Assists and 2 Steals a game while playing great defense, which is about all you can ask out of an old point guard. His offense has devolved into shooting the occasional threes, but hey, he'll still fill out the stat sheet. Westbrook, on the other hand, is the antithesis of Jason Kidd. His assist total is exactly the same statistically, but when you look at what he does when he has the ball, you'll realize why he's so different. Harden and Durant have moved into more ball-dominating roles, eliminating his assist totals and giving him more reason to take shots.
Advantage: Thunder. There's no arguing it. Westbrook is equal to Kidd in all areas....except scoring and athleticism. And those are two big areas.
|Ian Mahinmi, Brandan Wright, Lamar Odom||Nick Collison, Nazr Mohammed|
|"Superfly Superman", "The Human Exclamation Point", "The Candy Man"||"Los", "ODB"|
IM: 5.8 Pts, 4.8 Reb.
BW: 7.0 Pts, 3.5 Reb.
LO: 6.6 Pts, 4.2 Reb, 1.7 Ast
NC: 4.5 Pts, 4.5 Reb, 1.3 Ast.
NM: 2.7 Pts, 2.7 Reb
The Lowdown: Both teams have solid big men off of the bench. Brandan Wright has been a nice surprise after being labeled a draft bust by former teams, and Ian Mahimni is a solid double-double guy. Lamar Odom should easily be the best of the bunch, but his effort has been questioned this season. Collison and Mohammed are perfect utility big men, with Collison taking charges and getting in positions and Mohammed shooting the occasional jumper.
Advantage: Mavericks. I love plus minus as much as the next guy, but the idea of a motivated Odom on the bench is just scary.
|Jason Terry||James Harden, Daequan Cook|
|"Jet"||"Jimbo Slice", "Dynamic"|
|15.1 Pts, 2.3 Reb, 3.6 Ast, 1.2 Stl||
JH: 16.8 Pts, 4.1 Reb 3.7 Ast.
DC: 5.5 Pts, 2.1 Reb.
The Lowdown: Watching James Harden and Jason Terry play is really a treat. Both of them can shoot really long range threes and call drive plays for themselves. Both can play well in transition, and both can go off for huge amount of points. Cook can shoot threes mostly, but he's worked on his mid-range jumper and showed improvement in his ability.
Advantage: Thunder. As good of a scorer as the Jet is, Harden is younger and he's gone off for more. The Jet beats him on consistency, but the Mavs don't have Cook.
|Rodrigue Beaubois. Delonte West||Derek Fisher|
|"Roddy B", "Redz"||"Old Faithful"|
RB: 8.8 Pts, 2.8 Reb, 2.8 Ast, 1.1 Stl.
DW: 9.7 Pts, 2.3 Reb, 3.2 Ast, 1.4 Stl
|5.6 Pts, 1.9 Reb, 2.7 Ast, 92% FT|
The Lowdown: Beaubois and West are both known for their ability to light it up. They pretty much define the combo guard, as they can both dominate the ball and play off-ball. West is a better shooter, while Beaubois works better in the paint. He doesn't have the speed of JJ Barea, but I could see him punishing a guy like Fisher. Fisher is a PG who can shoot. He gets assists here and there, but he doesn't really dominate the ball. He's most comfortable working at the top of the perimeter, and almost never drives the lane.
Advantage: Mavericks. Even in his prime, I'd still go with these dudes over Derek Fisher. They're both really solid scorers and defenders.
Bottom of the Bench:
|Yi, Jones, Azubuike, Cardinal||Ivey, Jackson, Hayward, Aldrich|
|"The Chairman", "D.J.", "Sambuca", "The Janitor"||"Cheese", "Better Basketball", "Zar Zar Binks", "Cole Sore"|
The Lowdown: The guys you'll most likely see out of this crowd are Brian Cardinal and Royal Ivey. Both of them play spot minutes as good defenders. Otherwise, these guys will entertain us only if the score gets out of hand or someone goes down.
Advantage: Mavericks. As a whole, their unit of scrubs have much more experience than the Thunder do.
|Rick Carlisle||Scott Brooks|
|Reg. Season: 479-324
1 NBA Championship
|Reg. Season: 174-125
The Lowdown: Rick Carlisle is a very experienced coach, and the first to bring the Mavericks their title. He knows how to exploit mismatches and make adjustments on the fly. Scott Brooks is a disciple of Gregg Popovich, and is much more set and unchangeable in his overall strategy.
Advantage: Rick Carlisle. He's got a ring.
|Rumble and the Ultimate Thunder Fans||Champ and the Mavs Maniacs|
The Lowdown: The Thunder are known for having one of the best crowds in the NBA, but the Mavericks are fresh off of a title run, and their fans never disappoint.
Advantage: The Thunder. Comeon!
Keys to Winning the Series:
1. Consistent Offense. The Thunder have endured long stretches of no offense over the past few months. It's hard to quantify why and how to find a solution, but everyone's got their own theories as to what OKC should do in order to stave off the runs. Maybe they should go to Harden more. Maybe they should get to the line. Maybe they should draw up more plays for guys who don't get many opportunities. Maybe they should be more aggressive. In any case, anything is better than firing up lazy threes and turning the ball over.
2. Shutting Down Dirk. Dirk is the unmoveable pillar of the Mavericks offense, and if you can even come close to stopping him, then you've taken a huge chunk out of their winning formula. It's hard to know what phases him, but one successful tactic has been to play a quicker defender on him so he commits turnovers. In any case, throwing Ibaka on him 24/7 definitely won't work.
3. Keeping an eye on "The X-Factor". On the bench, the Mavericks have three dynamic scorers who can really fill it up when they're called on. Jason Terry, Delonte West, and Rodrigue Beaubois. They'll make mincemeat of guys like Fisher, Cook, and even Harden, so it's important for the Thunder to recognize which of those guys has the hot hand and rotating their stronger defender to him.
4. Stopping the backdoor cut. The Mavericks will sometimes succeed in putting Lamar Odom or Shawn Marion in the corner, distracting the Thunder defense with a pick at the top of the arc, and having Odom/Marion run down into the post and get an easy score.
5. Rebounding the ball offensively. The Mavericks are the third best team at the league in defensive rebounding, and while that's not necessarily an advantage, it can turn into a huge disadvantage if the other team relies on offensive boards. For the Thunder, it's a huge part of the offense of Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison, who don't get many plays drawn up for them.
Game 1: Saturday, April 28th, 8:30 CDT, OKC, ESPN
Game 2: Monday, April 30th, 8:30 CDT, OKC, TNT
Game 3: Thursday, May 3rd, 8:30 CDT, DAL, TNT
Game 4: Saturday, May 5th, 6:30 CDT, DAL, TNT
Game 5: Monday, May 7th, OKC, TBA
Game 6: Thursday, May 10th, DAL, TBA
Game 7, Saturday, May 12th, OKC, TNT, TBA
The Thunder win in 7 games. The Mavericks are a team that definitely lost something when JJ Barea and Tyson Chandler went to other destinations, but they're still a team with certain advantages against the Thunder that will keep them in this series. Plus, the Thunder still have a few kinks to work out, and they've definitely stalled out on offense as of late. But, at the end of the day, the Thunder have a few things in their favor. They have homecourt advantage, their lineup has been working together under defined roles for a longer period of time, and they're the best scoring and rebounding team in the league.
How do you think the series will go? Vote in the poll, post a comment!