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2011 NBA Western Conference Finals Preview: Dallas Mavericks vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

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While the Mavericks & Thunder matchup doesn’t quite rate with the Red River Rivalry, Dallas and Oklahoma don’t like each other very much and find themselves in a battle for a chance to play for an NBA title. In Oklahoma you have a team on the rise filled with emerging talent like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.  On the other hand in Dallas, you have a team of aging stars headlined by Dirk Nowitzski, Jason Kidd, and Jason Terry. Dallas seems to have finally turned the corner with regards to knowing how to win.  From a talent standpoint, they are down from years past, but seem well prepared to operate in winning time, but will it be enough to hold off the length and speed of the Thunder?

For most of the season, the Thunder have been seen as a two-man team. In the playoffs it’s been a different story. Durant has still been himself, but Westbrook looks lost on the court at times and has been getting crucified in the media for his shot selection… as in, he takes more shots than Mel Gibson. Still though, he’s an excellent player and will wow you way more than leave you shaking your head. If he relies on his abilities to slash and create Dallas will have their hands full, but if he’s in ball-stopper mode, it will be tough for them to score. The Mavs will definitely be challenged by the explosiveness and depth of Oklahoma City. Durant is nearly impossible to stop, but Shawn Marion, although older, is still a solid defender and may offer some resistance. Dallas will be rested and that will definitely help their older legs, but while Jason Kidd was able to frustrate Kobe Bryant, Westbrook is much quicker and seemingly only limited by his own decisions. Tyson Chandler gives the Mavs a tough inside presence, but will have to hang back more to avoid easy transition baskets.

The Mavs offense has been firing on all cylinders lately. Dirk is playing like one of the top 15 players in the history of basketball (which he is, but probably won’t ever get credited for being). He realizes that the offense flows through him and he has to be in attack mode for 48 minutes. His actions set up his teammates, but since he’s impossible to check with just one guy he can get whatever shot he wants. He’s not alone though, his veteran teammates Jason Terry, Jason Kidd, and Peja Stojakovic have turned up their play so far this postseason and if the 3-ball is falling, Oklahoma City won’t have much of a chance. Unlike the Lakers series, the threes will be contested this time around. The Thunder are an excellent defensive team, but how they match up will be interesting. Smart money has Serge Ibaka guarding Dirk, but they could choose to throw a double at him and taking their chances. I think they are better served sticking with man and guarding the perimeter with their lives. Dallas is beatable if you can throw waves of bodies at them, and Oklahoma City has the depth to do just that.

If Oklahoma City commits defensively and Russell Westbrook remembers who he is, the Thunder have a real chance in this series. Unfortunately, they are running in to the hottest team in the league and cannot stop Nowitzki. A double team, means open shooters, so their only chance will be if Dallas isn’t hitting their shots.

It won’t be easy, and next year might be a different story, but I think Dallas marches on.

Mavericks in 6.

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