Quantcast 2011 Oklahoma City Thunder Basketball: OKC Thunder Playoff Preview


NBA Western Conference Finals Preview:  (4) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (3) Dallas Mavericks



The Los Angeles Lakers aren’t here for the first time since 2007. The San Antonio Spurs, another dynasty from the past decade, aren’t here. The Phoenix Suns, who reached three conference finals from 2005 through 2010, aren’t here.

It’s a new-look Western Conference finals, one bereft of a team from the Pacific time zone and lacking an old-money power. In an NBA that’s constantly changing, the old and creaky teams of the West are giving way to more versatile clubs that can play different styles of basketball. The Dallas Mavericks might not be supremely youthful – they have several players who have been in the league for at least 10 years – but they’ve retooled themselves enough to dethrone the defending champions and gear up for a battle with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

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The defining duel in this series will be the heralded HORSE competition between its two shining stars. Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant and Dallas gunslinger Dirk Nowitzki make it hard to say that one team has a hammer in this Interstate 35 encounter. Durant scored 39 points in Sunday’s Game 7 win over the Memphis Grizzlies, reminding the professional basketball community of his stage presence and his bona fides. Nowitzki didn’t produce insane numbers, but he came up huge in the first two wins of the Mavs’ sweep of the Lakers. Nowitzki stood tall in Los Angeles as the Mavs forged a 2-0 series lead, and he changed the way the Lakers tried to attack the Mavs. When Dirk got all the attention in Game 3 in Dallas, his teammates were left open as a result, and that’s how the Mavericks abruptly shedded their reputation as playoff chokers. Long story short, Durant and Nowitzki, both in pursuit of their first NBA titles, should be able to generate open looks and convert a fair percentage of them. The two snipers might very well make a difference in terms of hitting big shots in crunch time, but it’s hard to say that they’re going to give their team a unique advantage – both Oklahoma City and Dallas will be in good shape when the pressure cooker builds in intensity.

As for the other showdowns in the West finals, a major skirmish will unfold the low post between Tyson Chandler of Dallas and Kendrick Perkins of Oklahoma City. The lanky, angular Chandler and the burly, muscular Perkins will be expected to clean up on the boards and alter shots while Durant and Nowitzki work their magic as mid-range shooters. Oklahoma City defeated Memphis in round two largely because Perkins and his fellow big men, Serge Ibaka and Nick Collision, were able to contain the Grizzlies’ interior duo of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. If the Perkins-Chandler war turns out to be a wash, Ibaka and Collison will have a lot to say about the way this series plays out. The same is true for Dallas bruiser Brendan Haywood.


Finally, we turn to the backcourt. Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook is too quick for Dallas floor maestro Jason Kidd, but Westbrook’s raw natural athleticism is often diminished by his so-so basketball IQ. Westbrook showed restraint and discipline in Game 7 against Memphis, and he’ll need to be that same kind of player for the Thunder to prevail in this series. Kidd will need to play solid defense and guide the Mavericks into sound halfcourt sets; the aging veteran should not be expected to do any more for coach Rick Carlisle.

The dimension of this series that’s likely to be decisive is the showdown on the wings. Oklahoma City’s James Harden regularly improved and streamlined the Thunder’s halfcourt offense against Memphis. He hit just 6 of his first 28 threes in the series against Memphis but hit three straight on Sunday to knock out the eighth-seeded Grizzlies. Harden is the glue that holds Oklahoma City’s offense together. Yet, on the other side of the divide, Dallas owns the perimeter firepower Memphis simply didn’t have. Jason Terry and Peja Stojakovic fed off the Lakers’ evident intent to limit Nowitzki in the second round of the playoffs. They were easily able to plant themselves on the wings and in corners for open threes. If these longtime playoff veterans hit more triples on a consistent basis, Oklahoma City will have to confront huge matchup problems.

If the East finals between Miami and Chicago are likely to be rugged, this series should be an up-and-down scorefest. We’ll see who gets the final shot at the end of regulation… and manages to deliver the goods. This really is a Wild West shootout in which accuracy will be sorely needed.


By: Matt Zemek
ProBasketball-fans.com Staff Writer

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