Western Conference Finals: Dallas Mavericks Vs. Oklahoma City Thunder Series Analysis

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 04: Dirk Nowitzki #41 of the Dallas Mavericks reacts after making a three-pointer in the third quarter while taking on the Los Angeles Lakers in Game Two of the Western Conference Semifinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on May 4, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

3rd seed Dallas Mavericks (57-25) 4th seed Oklahoma City Thunder (55-27) Mavericks won the season series two games to one.

After dismantling the Los Angeles Lakers in four games, the Mavericks will face the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference finals. The I-35 series will be short on the travel as the two teams are a mere 3 hours away.  It will have been nine days between games when the two teams face off on Tuesday night. The Mavericks are the oldest team in the league so while rust is a concern; the rest will surely be beneficial for them in this series. With the series starting on Tuesday, the Mavericks will have to play ever other day and will not receive any consecutive off days in this stretch. That might be a concern especially with the youthful legs of the Thunder in this series. But if the Mavericks continue their level of play of the last six games, the lack of rest between games should be a non-factor.

Offense

Team

OffEff

Fg%

3pt%

TS%

Points in paint

DAL

107.6

47.5%

36.5%

56.5%

40.6

OKC

108.6

46.4%

34.7%

56.1%

32.2

 

The Mavericks lead the Thunder in all of the important shooting categories yet; they have a lower offensive efficiency rating. It’s odd, but it should come as no surprise. The Thunder do two things very well, running and getting quick shots off screens. Both cases allow the Thunder to score quickly and often in any games they play. Despite the addition of Kendrick Perkins the Thunder were still vulnerable in the paint after the All-Star break. That weakness was exposed by the Grizzlies in the last series as the tandem of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol were able to get to the paint at will and were in large part responsible for extending the series to seven games. The Mavericks on the other hand will have the upper hand in the points in the paint battle for the first time in these playoffs. Whether they take advantage of that remains to be seen.

Defense

Team

DefEff

FG%

3pt%

Points allowed

Points allowed in paint

DAL

  102.3

45%

34.3%

96

37.4

OKC

104

45.8

36.1%

101

41.6

The Mavericks have the clear advantage defensively in this series. Despite the slight advantage the Thunder hold in the individual matchups in this series, they are prone to mental lapses on the defensive end and are often slow to rotate which allows easy shots for their opponents. There were numerous times the Thunder’s defense was a step too slow against the Grizzlies only to be bailed out by missed jumpers. The Mavericks will make those jumpers. One thing the Thunder do better than the Mavericks on defense is block shots. The Thunder average six blocks a game. They are long and athletic and that could cause a few problems for the Mavericks.

Point Guard:  Russell Westbrook vs. Jason Kidd

Through two rounds Jason Kidd has been spared the wrath of the nimble young point guards in the West, that'll change in this series. Russell Westbrook is an explosive point guard with the quicks to blow by Jason Kidd and get to the basket at will. Luckily, he hasn't been doing much of that against the Mavericks this season. The Mavericks have held Westbrook to 14.3 points and nine assists on 32% shooting this season. The Mavericks did an excellent job this season of clogging the lane while daring Westbrook to beat them with jumpers. Westbrook, never one to turn down a dare, did just that and as you can see by his 32% shooting percentage, the results were not pretty. Kidd will likely see limited minutes against Westbrook this series, switching with Deshawn Stevenson to guard the much more offensively inept Thabo Sefolosha. Luckily, Westbrook has shown a propensity to get jumper happy when the Thunder's offense stalls and if that continues, the Mavericks should have no problem winning this series. If he ditches the jumper and concentrates on facilitating for his team and attacking the rim, the Mavericks could be in trouble. Kidd has been magnificent so far in the playoffs and his majestic command of the offense has the Mavericks playing exceptional basketball. Kidd averaged six points, seven rebounds and ten assists against the Thunder this season and if the three point shot come back strong as it did after the previous layoff the Mavericks will be in good shape.

Advantage: Thunder

Shooting Guard: Thabo Sefolosha vs Deshawn Stevenson

These two players will not be guarding eachother in this series and could very well see limited minutes on the floor in this series. But they're listed as starters, so we'll discuss them as such. Both players are known for their defense and both of them could play key roles in stopping the opposing team's star player. Stevenson has only seen a handful of minutes against Durant this season but he's held him to 32% shooting during that time. It's an extremely small sample size-19 possessions- but Stevenson could see time against the reigning NBA scoring champion. In all likelihood, Stevenson will be put on Westbrook to begin games and if he's effective, he'll get some extra run, if he's not, that will probably be the end of his night. Same with Sefolosha.  He'll get some minutes against Dirk to start the game, his effectiveness will determine the rest of his playing time.

Advantage: Even.

Small Forward: Kevin Durant vs Shawn Marion

The Mavericks will have their hands full trying to stop Kevin Durant. Durant combines his freakish length with a lightning quick release to make him almost unguardable on the basketball floor. Durant averaged 29 points and six rebounds against the Mavericks this season and they will have to throw a variety of looks at him in this series to try and limit his production. Shawn Marion has actually done a pretty good job on him. Durant has only averaged around 23 points when he's been matched up against Marion this season. Durant has also historically struggled against the Mavericks so far in his young career. The Mavericks have been able to hold Durant to 20 points on 40% shooting in his four seasons in the league, his lowest totals against any team in the NBA. Having said that, it will be a bunch of fresh bodies thrown against Durant and the Mavericks will have to battle him and hope he misses some of the jumpers he normally makes in this series. Shawn Marion has actually had a decent amount of success against the Thunder this season. Marion averaged 19 points and six rebounds against the Thunder while shooting 65% from the field. That kind of efficiency could very well continue in this series and if Marion makes Durant work on the defensive end, it could help hinder his offensive game. 

Advantage: Thunder

Power Forward: Serge Ibaka vs Dirk Nowitzki

The Thunder have absolutely nobody who can cover Dirk. Nowitzki has torched the Thunder in the past to a tune of 31 points per game on 54% shooting and have yet to find an answer for him on defense. They will do the same thing the Mavericks will do against Durant, throw a bunch of bodies on him. The only problem with that is this- anybody the Thunder have put on Dirk, Nowitzki has subsequently torched.  Kevin Durant? 33 points on 63% shooting per 36 minutes. Nick Collison? 32 points on 56% shooting per 36. Thabo Sefolosha? 31 points on 62% shooting per 36. And the guy he's matched up against on paper, Serge Ibaka? How about 41 points on 70% shooting per 36. Yikes. Serge Ibaka will be a disruptive force on defensive and his ability to block shots could hurt the penetrating of Barea or the quick turnarounds of Marion but it won't be a factor against Nowitzki.

Advantage: Mavericks

Center: Kendrick Perkins vs Tyson Chandler.

Whenever the Oklahoma City Thunder were mentioned in the past one primary theme kept emerging, "they're only one center away from being a title contender." Well, in February of this year, they got that center. Kendrick Perkins was acquired by the Thunder in a mid-season trade that sent Jeff Green and Nenad Kristic packing to Boston. And while the Thunder have become a title contender, it has little to do with Perkins. Perkins has been a shell of his former self as a Thunder due to lingering right knee injury. His mere presence has been enough to scare the occasional penetrator from the basket but he's not there physically and it limits his ability on the basketball floor. Perkins will be going up against Tyson Chandler. Of course, Chandler could've have been a Thunder last season if not for a failed physical. If Chandler had passed that physical, the Mavericks likely acquire Al Jefferson, don't get the massive defensive boost by the Chandler addition and are likely sitting at home following an early playoff exit. Phew. Chandler was outstanding in the season series against the Thunder averaging 12.7 points and 15 rebounds. But that was against a Thunder team without Perkins. However, Chandler's length and athleticism will likely irritate the bigger and stronger Perkins and Chandler will likely get his share of alley-oops and continue to be a rebounding force against the Thunder.

Advantage: Mavericks

Bench play

The Mavericks have encountered two horrid benches to begin the playoffs and have made them pay. The Oklahoma City bench is...not horrid.  As with any young team they're inconsistent, but they do have some capable players on their bench. The sixth man is James Harden. Harden really upped his scoring when Jeff Green left and can light it up on any given night. They also have one of the best backup point guards in the league in Eric Maynor. Maynor won't be able to provide the offense that Harden can but his ability to run the Oklahoma City offense cannot be overlooked. Their bench is rounded out by Nick Collison, Daequan Cook and Nazr Mohammed. Collison is known for his defense and will likely see time against Dirk in this series, Cook is a spotty three point threat and Mohammed provides them with another big. The Mavericks will counter with Jason Terry, J.J Barea, Peja Stojakovic and Brendan Haywood. They have the deeper bench and if Terry can perform anywhere near the way he's performed so far in these playoffs, it's not really that close.

Advantage: Mavericks

Prediction

The key to this series will be game one. If the Mavericks pick up right where they left off against the Lakers, they should dispose of the Thunder in quick fashion. If not, the Mavericks could be in store for a long grueling series. But there's something different about this team. Maybe game four against Portland was the true turning point. The hunger and focus this team has had since that debacle has been unparalleled and if that continues, I can't see the Oklahoma City Thunder slowing them down.  

Mavericks in 6

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