By Scott Spangler
For only the second time since 1997, neither the San Antonio Spurs nor the Los Angeles Lakers will be taking part in the Western Conference Finals. Instead, two cities separated by about 200 miles will host said festivities. Oklahoma City is about a 3-hour drive from Dallas, right up I-35. But when comparing the makeup of the two clubs, the proximity is more like worlds apart.
The Mavericks have been here before. During the Dirk Nowitzki era, Dallas has reached the WCF in 2003 and 2006. Rick Carlisle is an experienced coach with a veteran roster – Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, Tyson Chandler, Peja Stojakovic, Jason Terry, and so on. These are guys with a ton of playoff experience.
Since the move from Seattle, this would be new territory for the Thunder. Both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are 22 years-old – either would represent the youngest player on Dallas’ active roster. What’s more, two other key members of Ok City’s rotation, Serge Ibaka and James Harden, are even greener.
Youth, to this point, has not been a problem for Scott Brooks’ club. Granted, Denver and Memphis aren’t exactly battle-tested. Still, to make the conference finals means you’ve won two rounds. And while some folks might feel coming off a seven-game series could be a disadvantage to the Thunder, it might also serve them going forward in terms of experience in an elimination environment. Could that benefit OKC so soon? Tough to say.
Neither team has an answer for the opposing superstar. Kevin Durant and Dirk Nowitzki will get theirs. Russell Westbrook could be a real problem for Dallas, though he only shot 32 percent against the Mavs this season. Still, no matchup is more favorable for either club than what the Thunder have at the point. The Mavs must rely on the type of team defense that helped contain Kobe Bryant. Westbrook is, to this point, the most dynamic playmaker Dallas has seen this postseason.
The bigs for these teams should provide steady interior presence and rebounding. Tyson Chandler and Kendrick Perkins have certainly made big splashes with their new clubs. Both are coming off tough second-round assignments. Perkins was dealing with Marc Gasol, Chandler with Andrew Bynum. Since neither center poses much of an offensive threat, these two will working away from one another and helping teammates more defensively.
Dallas is, without a doubt, the deeper team. If Oklahoma City has any hope of making the Finals, slowing down Jason Terry is essential. James Harden must, at the very least, play his sixth man counterpart to a standstill. Continuing down the bench, we look for the Eric Maynor/J.J. Barea minutes to be an area of focus. The Lakers found out firsthand the damage Barea could inflict coming off high screens.
Dallas last played eight days ago, blowing away the Lakers on Mother’s Day. Since then, Oklahoma City has played three games, including one triple-overtime affair. In certain cases, there could be a rest-versus-rust debate. Not here. The arrow may be pointing in different directions for these two franchises, but OKC will have to wait a little longer.
Again, the Mavs are an experienced bunch. They have been watching the Thunder/Grizzlies along with the rest of us. The rest should be what the doctor ordered for Dallas. I like the Mavericks to win this series in six games and advance to the NBA Finals.
Fans are discussing the upcoming series in this forum topic.