By John Schmeelk
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In most respects, the Mavericks and the Thunder are about as diametrically opposed as two teams can be.
Dallas is filled with veterans that have been through the playoff wars dozens of times — but they lack lack elite athleticism. Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry and even Peja Stojakovic have all either been to the Western Conference Finals or the NBA finals. Three of those five are past their prime, while Dirk and Jason Terry will be very soon.
The Thunder, on the other hand, are young and athletic, but only Kendrick Perkins and Nazr Mohammed had previously been to the NBA finals (No, sorry, Nate Robinson doesn’t count). This is the furthest their two best players, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, have ever gotten in the playoffs. The same goes for James Harden and Serge Ibaka, two ultra-important role-players. These guys are still a couple years before their prime and should get better as their careers progress.
Now, most would automatically give a huge advantage to the Mavericks because of their experience. I don’t. I just don’t think the Thunder will see or experience anything in this round that they didn’t go through in their seven-game series against Memphis.
They’ve played in tons of tight games, and Durant won’t be overwhelmed by any moment. I just don’t buy it.
The most fascinating thing to watch in this series is the potential matchup problems. Oklahoma City has no one that can guard Nowitzki. Their bigs (Perkins, Ibaka, Collison, Mohammed) are not agile enough to guard him around the three point line. Durant isn’t strong enough and would get killed in the post. Thabo Sefolosha is not tall enough. This is a nightmare for the Thunder that I don’t see a solution to.
It’s no better for the Mavericks, who have no one athletic enough to stay with Durant. Marion has the length, but not the quickness. Terry is too small. Stojakovic is too slow. Former Knick Corey Brewer is by far the best equipped, but he played sparingly in the first two rounds. He has a reputation as a defensive stopper — and he’ll have a chance to prove it against Durant. If Brewer does well he could be looking at 20-30 minutes a game.
It’s even worse for Russell Westbrook. Kidd has no chance with his lack of quickness. JJ Barea is WAY too small. Terry is too slow. I honestly don’t see anyone even close to being capable of staying in front of Westbrook.
Big men Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood are going to have to make it uncomfortable for Westbrook when he gets into the paint. And he is going to get there often.
The bottom line is those three stars are going to get their points. Who else will step up? Will James Harden finish his coming out party? Will Ibaka become a household name? Or will Terry finally have a signature playoff moment? Can Kidd turn back the clock? Whoever that player is will probably be the difference maker in this series.
The Thunder’s talent is better. They are athletic and have more explosiveness. Both Durant and Westbrook can take over any game. However, they are missing a certain intangible that championship teams have. Westbrook doesn’t make the best decisions with the ball and takes too many shots. I don’t think they’re quite there yet.
The Mavericks, meanwhile, are playing their best basketball. Dirk has looked as good as he did during the Mavericks’ run to the finals in 2006. Rick Carlisle has instilled a defensive philosophy that the team has bought into. The roster is incredibly balanced from point guard to center. It should be an extremely tight series — but I just don’t see the Thunder winning a Game 7 in Dallas.
Mavericks in 7.
What’s your prediction for Mavs-Thunder? Let Schmeelk know in the comments below…