The Dallas Mavericks match up well with both the Memphis Grizzlies and the Oklahoma City Thunder, but the Grizzlies may offer less of a headache.
The Dallas Mavericks won't play again until Sunday, at the earliest, after sweeping their NBA Playoff series against the Los Angeles Lakers quicker than the NBA schedule makers had planned. This means that Mavs fans have a few days to decide whether they'd like Dirk Nowitzki to have to battle the near-unstoppable Zach Randolph and the Memphis Grizzlies in the next round or deal with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the young-and-gun Oklahoma City Thunder.
If you're asking me (or reading this, I guess), I'd suggest the Mavericks faithful root for the Memphis Grizzlies when that series -- tied at two apiece following Monday night's triple overtime thriller -- resumes Wednesday evening.
The Mavericks actually lost the season series three games to one against the Grizzlies during the regular season, but that Memphis team included the now-injured Rudy Gay and his 18.3 points per game in three of those four contests. Even though Dallas went 2-1 against the Thunder this season, both wins came with Caron Butler on the court and not in a suit. In the end, the Mavericks are probably be better off going against the star-less Grizzlies in the Western Conference Finals rather than try to deal with two elite players in Durant and Westbrook.
Instead of having to deal with both Westbrook and Durant as legitimate threats to score 40 points in any game of the series against the Mavericks and some of their sub-par perimeter defenders (think Peja Stojakovic trying to defend Durant, the best scorer in the NBA), Dallas could instead play at their own pace while hoping Tyson Chandler's inside presence is able to limit the effectiveness of the inside duo of Randolph and Marc Gasol for the Grizzlies.
Jason Kidd would would have to defend Mike Conley, which isn't an easy task when he's hitting insane three-pointers as he did in Game 4 for the Grizzlies, but it would seem drawing Conley would be quite the boon when the alternative is the quick, athletic Westbrook of Oklahoma City. Playing Memphis wouldn't seem to be an easy offensive match-up, however, as Kidd shot just 27 percent against the Grizzlies in their four regular season match-ups.
Nowitzki also probably wouldn't mind being checked by Randolph, a player not known for any modicum of defensive ability, after having to deal with the versatile Lamar Odom and lengthy Pau Gasol in their series against the Lakers. The German forward might not enjoy his defensive match-up, however, as Randolph is averaging 23.3 points and 11.1 rebounds in the Playoffs thus far by bullying his defenders down low.
The Dallas players that should excel most against the Grizzlies, as they've done the entire playoffs, are the players off the bench. Jason Terry, J.J. Barea and Stojakovic are three of the Mavericks top leading scorers in Dallas's ten playoff games so far (with part of that being due to the extended run they received in Game 4) and that trend would more than likely continue against the Grizzlies as, without Gay, a shallow bench has even less depth.
After all of that, though, there is one thing that the Grizzlies do better than the Thunder that might make them a less than ideal next-round opponent: defending the pick-and-roll/pop that Barea and Nowitzki ran so well in a couple of games against Los Angeles. Sebastian Pruiti of NBAPlaybook first noted it last week, but as the Playoffs drag on, it's become clearer that Kendrick Perkins either doesn't understand how to -- or can't -- defend the pick-and-roll. One wouldn't think Randolph is quick enough to do it efficiently either, but OKC's already proven during the Playoffs that they struggle with it.
At the end of the day (or series, as it were), the Mavericks should be considered the odds-on favorite whether they face the Thunder or Grizzlies in the bid to advance to their first NBA Finals appearance since the 2005-06 season. With the absence of any superstars, however, it seems that the path there might be a bit easier if they're walking it in Memphis.