It's going down! Playoffs! I'm yelling timber! Playoffs!
The Oklahoma City Thunder tip off their 2016 postseason tonight against the Dallas Mavericks, and I'm pretty excited for the first course of playoff games. Maybe other matchups more so than this one, though. Among the teams I've discussed with folks as potential first round threats, the Mavericks aren't really one of them.
The Portland Trail Blazers are probably the preeminent upset threat in the West this year, and the Thunder ducked them. The Utah Jazz are a sexy young team with some lineup versatility, but they missed the playoffs entirely this year. The Houston Rockets have plenty of flaws, but they also have James Harden. The Memphis Grizzlies probably don't have enough left in them to pull off a series win, but they'll at least make you fight for yours.
The Mavericks? Not so scary. They looked like they might even miss the playoffs, but a random late-season surge in their team defense got them here. That's on Rick Carlisle, who is an excellent excellent excellent coach and will show it in this series. He'll throw byzantine zone defense schemes and tiny lineups with two or three point guards out there, which are unusual enough that they might be able to find a bit of a foothold for a stretch against the Thunder.
But the talent gap is too wide, and the Mavericks are missing Chandler Parsons. They don't have any big wings, unless you count 6-6 rookie Justin Anderson – still a bit short, but reasonably thick – but they certainly don't look like they'll have an answer for Kevin Durant. They might not even have one for Russell Westbrook, who should no issue feasting on the four-headed point guard "beast" of Deron Williams, J.J. Barea, Raymond Felton and Devin Harris.
I'm looking forward to watching Dirk Nowitzki. Dirk is one of the special few guys in the league who can shoot over the top of Serge Ibaka, though if you're a Mavs fan, you might see it as Ibaka being one of the few guys who can still give Dirk some fits. The answer probably lies in the middle somewhere.
But I don't think he has much of a shot at all on defense, where the Thunder will gladly run pick-and-pops to get Serge Ibaka open or send Steven Adams or Enes Kanter barrelling inside. Again, Carlisle will try all sorts of defensive necromancy to mask Nowitzki's deficiencies – Mavs Moneyball's Tim Cato even suggested that he'll try to hide him on Andre Roberson, which I think would be an excellent idea – but there will be moments where Nowitzki will look like the liability that he is, and there will be plenty of them.
Anyway, I'll wrap it up here. If you want to read deep-dive previews, there's no shortage of The Good Stuff here, on Mavs Moneyball or around the rest of the non-SB Nationized Internet. I'll direct you to Marina's retrospective on the season series between these teams, Jeff's Q&A with Mavs expert Kirk Henderson and the Mavs Moneyball cast's blockbuster preview. Even more is on the way, so look forward to that. Drown in the playoff preview content.
The playoffs are here! We're excited.
|2015-16 NBA Season, First Round Game 1|
|April 16th, 2016|
|Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK|
|8:30 PM CST|
|TV: ESPN, NBA League Pass|
|Injury Report: Mitch McGary (Out), Devin Harris (Probable), J.J. Barea (Probable), David Lee (Questionable), Jeremy Evans (Out)|
|This Season's Matchups: Nov 22 (W, 117-114), Jan 13 (W, 108-89), Jan 22 (W, 109-106), Feb 24 (W, 116-103)|
|Deron Williams||PG||Russell Westbrook|
|Wesley Matthews||SG||Andre Roberson|
|Justin Anderson||SF||Kevin Durant|
|Dirk Nowitzki||PF||Serge Ibaka|
|Zaza Pachulia||C||Steven Adams|