The matchup to decide the Wild Wild West will finally get underway tonight. No I am not referring to the NHL’s crazy Western Conference. I am talking about the extraordinarily deep NBA Western Conference. It is a 3/4 matchup. Not too many people predicted these 2 to square off for a trip to the Finals. And that is fine. It still a great all around matchup.
Though Oklahoma City has been a sexy pick all year (see my preseason picks at https://sportskraze.wordpress.com/2010/10/26/nba-preview-2010-2011/ ), not many actually had them advancing to the Conference Finals. Dallas on the other hand is the NBA’s version of the 90s Atlanta Braves. They consistently finish in the top few in the West every year, yet never seem to win the big one. In the Dirk Nowitzki/Mark Cuban era, it seems that Dallas will always win at least 50 games. Sadly though, they are a franchise that generally disappoints come playoff time, reminiscent of the Atlanta Braves in the 90s. Well this year that is not the case. Or at least not yet.
This Dallas team is different from past Maverick teams. They are not necessarily the best scoring Maverick’s team of the past decade, but they are without question the best defensively. The perception of Dallas has always been a bunch of dare I say “soft” guys, who can score the ball as well as anyone. A finesse team that looks to outscore every opponent. Well in this year’s playoffs, they have not only been scoring the ball (49 three pointers against the defending champs in 4 games), but they have been winning due to some outstanding defensive play. This is nothing new by any means either. Dallas ranked in the top 10 in the League in the majority of the major defensive categories this year.
The Thunder on the other hand love to get out and score. But similar to the Mavericks, they also have the ability to D up in the paint through guys such as Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison, and Kendrick Perkins. Many are expecting this series to be all about flash. And I am not going to deny that the scoring will be there. Any series that includes the likes of Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Durant better expect some outstanding all around scoring. But these teams will also battle it out in the paint.
The difference in this series though lies in the overall athleticism of the Thunder. I am not sure any team in the League can match up with the Thunder’s overall team speed. These guys look like they are shot out of a cannon every time they step on the floor. It is a controlled speed though. Dallas does possess the ability to get out and run, as they showed in their dismantling of the 2 time defending champion Lakers, but are much more comfortable out of the half court. Barea has been phenomenal with his penetrating ability which is leading to easy buckets for his teammates and himself. Sadly though, what athletic specimens do the Mavericks have coming off of the bench?
Sure they have talent, but can anyone match the intensity of James Harden, Eric Maynor, Daequan Cook, and more? It is already a stretch to imagine Barea and/or Kidd matching up with the Thunder’s speedy PG Russell Westbrook. But who is going to match up with the other Thunder speedsters off of the bench?
Dallas got phenomenal production out of their bench against LA. I expect the same against OKC. The only problem is, I feel OKC’s bench is more prepared to match the intensity level of the Maverick reserves than the Lakers were. This will be a great series. There are not too many times you get to watch 2 smoother scorers than Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Durant on the floor at the same time.
In a matchup of young versus old, the nod goes to the youngsters. OKC has no pressure on them right now. The core of this team appears to have a good few more years together. Dallas on the other hand is only getting older and the pressure continues to mount to nab that title. Though nobody expected the Mavericks to get this far, the pressure is still there on a franchise that has never been able to win the big one (at least in the Nowitzki/Cuban era).
The Thunder will represent the West in the Finals. OKC in 6.
Stay tuned for the next edition of TheSportsKraze.