With Game 1 of the Thunder's first round series against the Mavericks set to begin tomorrow night, we reached out to Kirk Henderson (@KirkSeriousFace) of the excellent Mavs Moneyball for his thoughts on the series. I also provided answers to a few of Kirk's questions here.
Keep checking Welcome to Loud City and Mavs Moneyball throughout the weekend for continued round 1 coverage.
What is one development that non-Mavs fan's aren't aware of, but may impact the series?
For the past several years, Rick Carlisle has instituted a free flowing motion offense that really compares to a spread offense in football. Without a true superstar, he had to resort to this very egalitarian offense which saw most of the starters get between 10-13 shots a game. With the rash of injuries late in the season (first, the season ending knee surgery for Chandler Parsons, then a sports hernia which sidelined Deron Williams for a while), Carlisle reverted to his old form with the Indiana Pacers and has been calling every single play. The Maverick pace has slowed to a crawl and it's just a very different looking team than what people may have seen before mid-March. It's been reasonably effective too considering they made the playoffs, but it feels like an offense with an expiration date too.
What will be the biggest advantage for the Mavericks against the Thunder?
It has to be coaching, right? With respect to Billy Donovan, Rick Carlisle is the NBA version of MacGyver. As I mentioned before, Rick's ability to continue to find ways to win with a revolving cast of players due to injury is bordering on absurd. Dallas was essentially out of the playoffs before going on a six game win streak to close the gap late in the year. Dirk Nowitzki also played like utter garbage during that stretch as well, so most of the credit for those wins goes to Rick for putting them in position to succeed.
What will be the biggest weakness for the Mavericks against the Thunder?
The talent disparity between the Thunder and the Mavericks is obscene. While it's obvious that having two of the top 6 players in the league helps the Thunder here, going down the roster makes it even more clear. The Thunder are better at every position, though you could argue a push for both power forward and shooting guard. With all the injuries Dallas is dealing with, the depth of the Thunder could really expose the lack of good players for the Mavericks. I'm particularly envious of the OKC big man rotation; the mix of Steven Adams, Serge Ibaka, Enes Kanter, Mitch McGary, and Nick Collison is pretty ridiculous.
What is the road map to a Mavericks series win?
It has to start and end with controlling the pace. The aforementioned Thunder talent can and should overwhelm the Mavericks. Slowing the pace way down, keeping turnovers at a minimum, and trying to keep OKC off the glass are the only things which will give the Mavericks a fighting chance.
What is the road map to a Mavericks series loss?
If the Mavericks engage in a track meet with the Thunder in any game, things will be out of reach before they know it. If Rick Carlisle indulges his love for the "3 guard line up" and keeps rookie Justin Anderson glued to the bench I suspect things may get ugly, even if the pace is slowed down. If J.J. Barea cannot annoy Westbrook at all on both ends, things will be over in a hurry.
How have the Mavericks changed since recent previous playoff matchups?
There's just been so much roster turnover. If we head back to 2011 and 2012 match ups, Dirk Nowitzki and J.J. Barea are the only guys still on the team from either match-up. If you pair the free agent failures with a consistent disregard for the draft, you end up with a team of second choices, which is primarily where the Mavericks are. Dirk's also a heck of a lot older (37!) and while he's still an offensive force, the burden they place on him isn't fair nor can he carry it on a nightly basis. It's a low key miracle the Mavericks are where they are right now.
Do you expect the bad blood between Russell Westbrook and J.J. Barea from the regular season to spill over into the playoffs?
It has to. Westbrook is a passionate player and Barea's made it 10 years in the league by instigating and doing things that really shouldn't be possible for a player of his size. Right now, Barea's been playing the best basketball of his career and this season Westbrook has lived as a category 5 hurricane. I suspect some fireworks are bound to happen.
The Thunder should roll in a Gentleman's sweep (4-1) though there is an outside shot of the Mavericks stealing a second game. This should also be one of the two most entertaining series in the first round, since both teams play an appealing offensive game (even with the Mavericks slowed pace).
Many thanks to Kirk Henderson and Mavs Moneyball! Be sure to check out their site daily for great coverage from the other side of the playoff series!