Many thought they were too young, too inexperienced. Many thought they weren’t ready, weren’t prepared. All the haters were silenced tonight when the Thunder inked their status in the elite group in the NBA when beating the 8th seeded Grizzlies in the conference semifinals, and advancing to the conference finals. The only problem is that now they have to face one of the mayors of the elite group. The Dallas Mavericks. Many thought Dallas wouldn’t be able to hold off the defending champs, but they did. In championship like fashion. Both of these teams have silenced the nay-sayers and are sitting promptly in the conference finals, awaiting their tough competition.
Just like the Heat-Bulls series, this should series should be a serious offensive struggle. The Mavericks held the TrailBlazers to 88 points in 6 games, and the Lakers to 92 points in 4 games. The Thunder held the Nuggets to 97 points in 5 games, and the Grizzlies to 114 points, but game 4 went into triple overtime.
For the Thunder to win this series, there are a lot of things that come into play. Not all of them are basketball related. They are going up against one of the oldest teams in the NBA, that means they’re going to get tired quicker, and aren’t going to be as fast but that also means they are very strong mentally, and have a high basketball IQ. Playoff games can get heated, and players can get mad, but the Mavericks don’t usually lose their grip on the game. If the Thunder’s young and inexperienced players can’t handle the very heated playoff games against a contained Maverick team, then they won’t be able to play a whole 7 game series and advance to the finals.
Now onto the basketball related factors. Russell Westbrook, a superstar, and a quick, athletic point guard will be matching up against a 38 year old veteran in Jason Kidd. You probably know what I am going to say. Westbrook is going to run all over Kidd that he’ll have to come out every 5 minutes to catch his breath. Russell can jump higher so J-Kidd will have trouble getting a hand in his face when shooting, he is slower so Russell will beat him off the dribble much easier, causing the big men to come out and guard him and leaving a corner 3-pointer open. He has to take advantage of this mismatch, if he does then this will be a much easier series for him and the Thunder. Another factor for winning is that they have to keep Dirk Nowitzki under control. That, of course is easier said than done. Pau Gasol couldn’t guard him so what makes anyone think Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison, or Kendrick Perkins will be able to. He is taller and much too quick for Collison and Perkins. Ibaka will have to guard him. He played very good defense on Zach Randolph in the post, but now he will have to be running more around curls for Nowitzki, or trying to prevent his nearly unstoppable jump shot. They don’t want to double on Nowitzki because then Jason Terry and Peja Stojakovic will be left open, and we know what happens when they’re left wide open. Ibaka has to be up for the challenge, if he can’t contain Nowitzki then this series is pretty much over before it began. Another thing they have to do to win is take advantage of the mismatch at the small forward position. Unlike Memphis, and Denver, the Mavericks have no gritty, tough, good perimeter defenders to handle the Durantula. Shawn Marion will most likely guard him, but Durant is quicker, more athletic, and just too talented for Marion to cover. This means Durant has to be very aggressive on offense, trying to drive to the hoop as much as possible, and taking quick dribbles and pull up jumpers. If he and Westbrook can take care of their mismatches then they’ll be in great shape.
For the Mavericks, it’s a different story. They’re going to need J.J Barea to be on his top game in this series. Jason Kidd most likely won’t be able to guard Westbrook, so that means Barea will see much more playing time in this series. He has to be able to play confidently, he has to guard Westbrook toughly and drive by him when he has the chance to. Then we have to look at the big men. Tyson Chandler will be key in this series. He will be guarded by Perkins, and Collison. He is taller then both of them, and quicker then both of them. He has to take advantage of his speed, and size down low for the Mavs to be able to win. He has to box out effectively, and jump on the glass whenever he can. Dallas should try to run some pick and rolls for Chandler, because with Kidd’s passing ability, and the center’s not being able to catch up with Chandler when he rolls, Chandler should have some easy dunks this series. Handling Durant will be the toughest mission for the Mavericks in this series. Shawn Marion, or Peja Stojakovic will have to guard him. Neither are talented enough defensively to handle the best scorer in the league. They may have to double Durant, the Thunder won’t have that many options to pass out of the double team to, there is always Westbrook but Sefolosha isn’t a dangerous shooter, nor is Harden consistently, that is.
This series will come down to guarding the star players. If the Thunder can contain Nowitzki, they’ll be in better shape. If the Mavs can contain Durant then they’ll be in better shape. We’ll see when the series starts. If I had to make a prediction right now. I’d give this series to the Mavericks in 6 games.