Two unlikely forces have emerged in the West in what should be a tale of David vs. Goliath in the conference championship.
3. Dallas Mavericks vs. 4. Oklahoma City Thunder
The Oklahoma City Thunder are in the midst of their greatest playoff run in franchise history. This group of young guns just made the playoffs for the first time last season but now find themselves at the doorstep of the NBA Finals.
Standing in their way, is the most experienced team left in the playoffs that has overcome its own hurdles to get this far.
That being said and considering how strongly the Beef feels about this series, let’s do things a little different and start off with the prediction.
The Dallas Mavericks will DESTROY the Thunder leaving them little room but to maybe ring the doorbell of the Finals and ultimately loose in four games. Yes, get your brooms out because these snot-nosed degenerates in OKC will disappoint everyone that has them picked to take this series past four games.
Sadly, OKC is starting Russell Westbrook at point guard. This overrated player in his third year out of UCLA has essentially been handed the reigns of the Thunder offense. Scott Brooks’ laid back style is essentially in the hands of the player that led the league in turnovers during the regular season with 3.9 a game. This postseason, Westbrook is turning it over 4.5 times a game.
His play is marred by tunnel vision and a jump-first mentality. If he doesn’t have the shot, he then looks for the open man. Usually, he just takes the shot. Additionally, during several occasions during their series against the Griz, he would find himself trapped in the post with no easy way out. Memphis took advantage of this by swiping at the ball while he was too busy looking for open guys or simply intercepted bad passes. Either way, it was almost the downfall of the Thunder during that series.
DeSawn Stevenson had the daunting task of guarding Kobe Bryant in Dallas’ last series against the Lakers. Rick Carlisle was able to throw the Black Mamba off his game early with Stevenson’s ability to pest the future hall of famer up and down the court. He even begins his approach at the baseline as if the Mavs were in a full-court press. This often leads to the offense having to run a screen just to inbound the ball.
His job will be to hit Westbrook early and hard. In the first two games of the Lakers’ series at Staples Center, Bryant only sunk six shots in the first quarters. Although Stevenson doesn’t offer a ton offensively, he will give the young guard a headache and cause early turnovers that will shake his confidence.
Westbrook does have the ability to drive and sometimes find the open man after collapsing defenders in the paint. This is how teammates Kevin Durant and James Harden get so many open threes. However, don’t expect the Dallas zone to fall for this so easily. Even after Stevenson is benched Dallas’ Tyson Chandler or Brendan Haywood will be there in the paint to prevent any easy scoring.
Next, we have a matchup with the big men. Oklahoma City is leading the league this postseason in defensive rebounds per game with 34 a night. However, this should come as no surprise when you look at the smaller lineups they faced in both Denver and Memphis. Dallas proved against LA that it has a very deadly frontcourt that offers up a lot of second-chance scoring.
Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins will have their hand full against the taller and lengthier Chandler. His tip outs have changed the way the Mavs rebound and give them an advantage on both sides of the court from giving Jason Kidd a chance to reset the play to fast break points which they had 18 of in their last game against the Lakers. Not to mention, Chandler only gathered one personal foul against LA. Emeka Okafor had 28 against the Lakers in the first round.
Perkins is not a tool in the OKC offense at all. He’s mainly down in the post getting rebounds but not passes. So far this postseason, he’s only getting 4.7 points a night along with almost 4 personal fouls a game. Ibaka is putting up much better numbers but Westbrook is going to have to get him the balll. Additionally, he needs to cut down on his personal fouls as well seeing as he has collected five fouls in during six games these playoffs.
The Mavericks bench is going to be crucial in this series. Utilizing J.J. Barea in the fourth quarter has been very successful for the Mavs. His speed caught the Lakers off guard late in both games three and four. He’s a hard player to guard and can stretch a team out on the court.
Additionally, Jason Terry was on fire against the Lakers. His nine three pointers in game four essentially took them out of the game from the start. Peja Stojakovic will be essential as well. Everyone in the stadium knows he is a sharp shooter but he often caught LA’s defenders off guard when he created shots off of the dribble after the likes of Bryant, Ron Artest and even Derek Fisher threw their bodies at him with their arms up to guard against the three. He simply dribbled around them and hit an easy two pointer on multiple occasions.
Likewise, the Thunder will need to get some scoring from their bench as well. Dallas has been off for eight days as opposed to OKC’s two. Not to mention. The scrappy series against Memphis has worn the Thunder out. It will be up to their bench to bring some energy late in the game. Harden is having a great postseason with 12.4 points a game but he can’t carry them alone. Nick Collison and Nazr Mohammed need to show up especially since Brooks doesn’t have a lot of size to deal with.
Next Kevin Durant needs to open his mouth and be the leader that this team needs, Westbrook is taking just as many shots as he is at 20 a game these playoffs. Durant moped during the overtimes in game four to Maurice Cheeks on the sideline instead of getting in Westbrooks’ face himself and asking for the ball.
This second-overall pick needs to stop acting like a docile child and actually take control. He is the reason they are here and no one else. If he allows this team to continue running plays with him as an afterthought that has to create his own shots, not only will they loose this series but his legacy will never live up to what people expect it to be. This team is living by Westbrook and at their rate they will die by Westbrook. This scoring champ needs to let him know who needs to be taking the shots.
Lastly, it comes down to how much Dallas wants this. They have been in this situation before and put away a very good 2006 Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference Finals. That year, much like this one, they got better and better as the playoffs wore one outside of the Finals. However, this is an older and different Mavs team and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Carlisle has already proven his ability to recognize the need for adjustments especially with how he has dealt with all the options he has at guard. Not to mention, Kidd is a much better point guard than Devin Harris and Chandler is a much better option that Erick Dampier.
Then their comes the one that wants this the most. Dirk Nowitzki is sick of all the talk and is ready to finally prove something. While Miami was popping champagne after defeating the geriatric and injured Celtics, Dirk marched off the floor with a sense of determination and professionalism. He knows this may be his final chance to take what has eluded him for so long: a title. Even Mark Cuban has shut his mouth as of late knowing very well what overconfidence can do to his Dallas Mavericks. Even Dirk has an appreciation for a quite Cuban.
The Mavs have better everything: better coach, better guards, better offense, better defense, better bench, better big guys and a better resume this postseason. Congratulations to the Thunder that knocked off Denver and Memphis who both lacked any players that averaged more than 20 points a game during the regular season.
Their playoff run was cute but it will end next Monday after the Mavs defeat them in game four. Every sign shows that this Thunder team’s luck is about to run out. This series sweep is going to be brutal so forget the broom, you’re going to need a wet vac.