The Official Two Man Game Official Dallas Mavericks Versus Oklahoma City Thunder Official Western Conference Finals Preview for the Official 2010-2011 Official NBA Post-Season

Posted by Rob Mahoney on May 16, 2011 under Commentary, Previews | 22 Comments to Read

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I never expected to be writing series previews for the Mavs this deep into the post season, but here I am, and here are the Mavs, playing some absolutely fantastic two-way basketball. Dallas played through the first two rounds as well as any team in the playoffs, but in the Conference Finals they’ll face their toughest opponent yet. Oklahoma City has neither Portland’s obvious flaws nor L.A.’s crippling defensive issues, and contending with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and the Thunder’s brilliant supporting cast will require more incredible execution from the Mavs. There was little room for error during this playoff run to begin with, but Dallas must continue to walk the fine line of passing without overpassing, pressuring on D without fouling, and committing to a team defensive front without sacrificing the means to grab defensive rebounds.

Reducing this series to a “who guards Dirk/Durant?” bullet point may be oversimplifying things a bit, but I understand the temptation to determine the victor of this series by way of defending an opponent’s star player. Nowitzki and Durant are both fantastic offensive players without clear cross-team matchups; Shawn Marion* and DeShawn Stevenson will get the call for Dallas and Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison for OKC, but none of those four should be expected to do a stellar defensive job, even on the basis of an individual game. All four defenders will work like crazy to defend their man, but there’s only so much you can do against Nowitzki’s array of jab steps and fakes and Durant’s combination of size, speed, and shooting.

*Marion actually didn’t spend much time at all defending Durant this season. Caron Butler logged a lot of time against Durant the first two times the teams met, and Marion spent the last game of the season series filling in for an injured Nowitzki. In both contexts, Marion ended up covering Jeff Green during many of his minutes, but should see a lot more of Durant in the games to come.

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The key in either matchup is the minimization of losses — which team can manage to get torched for less. With that in mind, I think the Mavs have a bit of an advantage on the superstar front. Whether Nowitzki or Durant is the superior player hardly matters. What does is the fact that Nowitzki has more easily initiated ways to attack defenders (low post, high post, iso on the wing, pick-and-roll, pick-and-pop) than Durant. KD’s alleged troubles to get open and receive passes are very real; he may be one of the most brilliant scorers in the league, but against heavy defensive pressure, his touches can be limited. He’s more susceptible to double-teams. His influence can be hindered by encouraging Russell Westbrook to shoot. Dallas simply has more avenues to derail Durant than OKC does to limit Nowitzki, a point which gets lost in the Durant vs. Marion and Nowitzki vs. Ibaka framework.

As far as individual defense goes, I think Marion is perhaps a bit slower than the Mavs would like, but he’ll have to be their best first line of defense against Durant. Stevenson doesn’t have the size, strength, or athleticism to pull off a Tony Allen-like (or even Tony Allen-light) defensive performance, and Jason Kidd isn’t really an option in this series. Corey Brewer could see the court for a few minutes, but Rick Carlisle clearly prefers the rotation regulars. Marion is the most logical choice at this point, even if the speed advantage he surrenders to Durant could be a recurring problem. Still, Marion will make Durant work for every point he gets, and doesn’t often surrender free cuts to the rim nor bite on shot fakes. Marion is excellent at staying down while getting a hand in a shooter’s face — an advantage afforded him by his height and length — and that ability to challenge Durant’s jumper without allowing KD to draw a cheap foul is incredibly important.

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Dallas is the better shooting team in this series, which puts OKC at a disadvantage to begin with; in order to win, the Thunder will need to defend like crazy in order to bring the Mavs’ shooting down to a reasonable level, create a considerable advantage on the offensive glass (akin to Chicago’s Game 1 rebounding dominance against Miami on Sunday night), win the turnover battle by a significant margin, or get to the free throw line at an incredible rate. Marion’s defense can help on a number of fronts, as he can limit Durant’s impact on the glass, create turnovers with deflections, and limit Durant’s free throw attempts. KD may still drop 29 a game in this series, but his full impact across the four factors should be diminished if Marion does his job correctly.

Across the sky, Collison won’t be exploited in his attempts to cover Nowitzki, just overwhelmed (Ibaka may be a different story; he’s a strong defender in most contexts, but this matchup is not one of them). He’ll do a serviceable job against Nowitzki, but I see no way for the Thunder to even hedge on this particular weakness, no way to limit Dirk from doing exactly what he wants to do virtually every time he gets the ball in a position to score. Nowitzki will be bound by his own natural misses and errors, but I don’t see any defensive coverage that can rattle Dirk at this point, and no individual who can truly claim an ability to limit him. With Dirk on the floor against the Thunder this season, the Mavs have posted an offensive efficiency of 131.74. Fish in a barrel, my friend. The Western Conference Finals are the fish, the Thunder defenders are the barrel. Fish in a barrel.

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Beyond Nowitzki and Durant, Russell Westbrook is the best player in this series, though with the regular season as precedent, I wouldn’t expect him to play like it. On paper, Jason Kidd seems like a horrible cover for Westbrook; the Thunder point man is among the most impressively physical perimeter players in the league, and can run circles around any defender with the misfortune of covering him. Dallas, however, lets Westbrook be. Kidd doesn’t try to go chest-to-chest with him, but backs away, affording Westbrook all the opportunity to give into temptation and fire off his pet pull-up jumper. Westbrook isn’t a horrible shooter, but this is far and away the preferred result of any Thunder possession. Not only does it often result in a low-percentage shot, but it creates a scenario in which Westbrook has to turn down open shots on every single possession** in order to get the ball to Durant or any other Thunder player. That’s tough for any player to resist, and particularly so for one with an occasionally destructive tendency to fire at will.

**This is as true of the Mavs’ man-to-man defense as it is the zone. Regardless of the coverage, Westbrook will be given room.

In reality, this matchup is less about Kidd vs. Westbrook than it is about Westbrook vs. his own decision making, and subsequently Westbrook vs. Kidd and Tyson Chandler. Westbrook will need to be incredibly patient in order to properly initiate the Thunder offense, and the Mavs will attempt to goad him into shooting by going under every screen and playing several feet off of Westbrook when he has control of the ball. If Westbrook chooses to shoot, he’ll halt the Thunder offense, miss more than he makes (Westbrook converted 29 percent of his mid-range jumpers against the Mavs in the regular season), and generate transition opportunities for the Mavs. If he chooses to drive, he’ll have Kidd bothering him along the way and Chandler lying in wait. In the season series, Westbrook converted just 44 percent of his shots at the rim and 29 percent of his shots in the paint when Chandler was on the floor (according to NBA.com’s StatsCube), and TC will continue to aggressively challenge Westbrook’s drives; leaving offensively limited bigs like Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison doesn’t create much of a disadvantage for Dallas, so utilizing Kidd and Chandler as a two-man front against Westbrook is only a logical choice. It may be a bit hyperbolic to say that Westbrook will be neutralized in this series as a result, but he’ll certainly be tested and likely be limited.

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If much of Westbrook’s positive impact is taken out of the picture, the advantages held by Nowitzki and the Mavs’ supporting cast (which is more versatile and productive than the Thunder’s crew, even if the difference in efficacy isn’t glaring) become even more vital. That could easily be negated if OKC does particularly well on the offensive glass or gets out into transition frequently, but I see the Mavs taking care of business in both of those regards. The Thunder will naturally get theirs on the break and with second chance points, but not to a degree that will significantly affect the series. Marion, Jason Terry, Peja Stojakovic, and J.J. Barea, on the other hand, seem poised to consistently outscore OKC’s supporting cast thanks to the opportunities granted by Dallas’ offensive system. The Thunder will play much better defense than the Lakers did, but the production and efficiency of the Mavs’ complementary scorers was no fluke.

That’s why I predict that the Mavs will win in six games. The Mavs haven’t won back-to-back series because of hot shooting, but because their commitment to offensive execution in these playoffs has no equal. Contending with their ball movement is a difficult feat, and an incredibly difficult one if Westbrook is side-stepping the offense to pull up for mid-range jumpers. There isn’t a terribly compelling reason why the Thunder will be able to disrupt the most beautifully structured and productive offense remaining in the playoffs, and the strength of the Mavs’ offense should power them through to their second ever NBA Finals appearance, prediction jinx permitting.

  • http://twitter.com/KirkSeriousFace Kirk Henderson

    That makes sense.  I do hope Brewer gets some burn though.  While I can see Durant provoking some cheap fouls, his energy and enthusiasm (not to mention his instincts) are fun to watch.

  • Aleksthethird

    i didn't get the fish-barrel metaphor, like, at all. I feel stupid.

  • Jim W.

    Is Roddy B. available for this series? It seems like one where he could be useful.

    • http://twitter.com/KirkSeriousFace Kirk Henderson

      Who is Roddy B? Just kidding. I somewhat agree though he didn't show any real leap in decision making when he did play.  The game hasn't slowed down for him at all I dont think.

      • Phil

        I doubt that Roddy is goin to see minor, let alone major minutes this series. Carlslie seemingly doesn't like to change the rotation at this point of the postseason, so I expect to see Roddy in street clothes for the majority of games (because if he dresses, Brewer would be inactive).

        BTW, way to go with your pick, Rob, I hope your Mavs prediction will work out well this series (opposed to the 1st and 2nd round picks) :)  

        Go MAVS!

  • Kyle

    This story was completely biased and unbalanced . . .   Good job, you lived up your title

    • Rock

      Lame comment without explanation

  • Dustinf100

    I dont understand your pictures

  • http://twitter.com/statforthat Deron R. Pope

    I think the Mavs will win in 5 or 6.  Recent history suggests that if a team is older and the higher seed, they win the series, and the age difference between the Mavs and Thunder is almost 8 and a half years.  That being said, I'm rooting for the Thunder, but I wouldn't mind seeing J-Kidd top off his career with a ring.

    http://theresastatforthat.blog

  • Aleksthethird

    I mean, if the Western Conference Finals are the fish and the Thunder defenders the barrel, the Mavs would catch the Finals, I mean, win the Finals in the defenders. Or, rather, the defenders would be the vessel for winning the games, I mean, the framework which holds the necessary and sufficient conditions for the existence of winning the games. This does seem weird.

    • entropy13

      Fish = WCF
      Barrel = Thunder

      Since the saying is that it's like “shooting a fish in a barrel”, and as proven in Mythbusters, it's very hard to actually miss, and depending on the gun you can actually shoot the fish in a barrel and destroy the barrel too.

      I guess that's what he's trying to say. If the Thunder (defense) fail to contain the “guns” of the Mavs (offense) then the fish would be shot (Mavs win the WCF), and the barrel destroyed (defense proven to be useless/ineffective).

      • Aleksthethird

        So, prior to being filled with fish, the barrel has to contain the guns? The plot thickens.

        • http://www.thetwomangame.com Rob Mahoney

          This might be the best discussion in the comment threads that I've ever seen.

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  • mateo

    Even if one were to accept that the Mav's bench were better than the Thunder's, I don't think it is so substantive a difference as you imply. I mean you just say they will consistently outscore the Thunder's bench as though it were a given, but fail to mention the Thunder's most important bench player and third scorer in James Harden. The bearded one plays with as much versatility as anyone, hitting threes off the dribble, driving the lane, and creating plays for the other guys on the floor. Plus Maynor is an excellent facilitator for the second unit and a decent shooter in his own right, then Cook can always come in off the bench for a couple of threes. And of course if you leave Collison he isn't going to hurt you with a dazzling array of post moves but it will leave him open for the second chance tip-ins he used so effectively against Memphis in game 7.

    In all honesty I have no idea how this series will go but you ignore how well the Thunder bench has performed in these play-offs when you dismiss their contributions so readily.

    • shayseph

      Perhaps the implication that the Mavs bench is better stems from the fact that the Mavericks bench out scored the defending champions team in game 4 of the semi-finals.  I don't think anyone was knocking The Beard's awesome, especially in game 7 versus the Grizz. But you're not going to get more out of Maynor/Cook/Collison than the Mavericks will get out of Barea/Peja/Brewer/Haywood on a consistent basis. The Thunder bench lacks consistency of the Mavericks bench.

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  • albuhhh

    one of these days, you're really gonna have to explain these pictures.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jesse-Blanchard/516723302 Jesse Blanchard

    From DDL:

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