NBA Playoffs 2012: An Oklahoma City Thunder Q&A

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 03: Forward Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder reacts against the Memphis Grizzlies in Game Two of the Western Conference Semifinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs on May 3, 2011 at Oklahoma City Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 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 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

We talk about whether James Harden has recovered from the elbow heard around the world, who the Thunder will play in crunch time and what their strategy will be on Dirk.

To preview the Dallas Mavericks first-round opponent, we've brought in JA Sherman, the managing editor of Welcome To Loud City, SB Nation's outstanding Oklahoma City Thunder blog.

1. What is James Harden's status and when will he be full go?

James Harden, from a medical standpoint, has been fully cleared to play in the playoffs. He has said that he feels good and is eager to get back on the court. However, there is no substitution for the actual game so we never know how his body is going to react the first time he has to take a hard foul as he drives to the rim. It will be very interesting to see how the Mavericks treat Harden during the series.

2. What's the crunch time lineup for the Thunder against the Mavs?

The key line-up in the crunch time is most likely going to be Durant-Westbrook-Harden-Perkins-Ibaka. James Harden will be the trigger man who is looking to set up both Westbrook and Durant, but it will be interesting to see if the Thunder try to use Harden in a greater scoring role in the playoffs compared to the regular season. Also, Ibaka has often had trouble guarding Dirk Nowitzki in the past, so on the defensive end, we might see Nick Collison come off the bench to try to contend with Dirk in the crunch.

3. How much of Kendrick Perkins will we see in this series? Will he stick with his lineup?

I think Perkins will have a large role in the series because the Mavs no longer have Tyson Chandler, and Chandler was a terrible match-up for Perkins a year ago. Perkins was simply not quick or athletic enough to stay with the versatile Chandler, and the Thunder interior defense suffered. This time around though with Chandler in NY, I think Perkins matches up much better against the Mavs big men.

4. With Dirk being the obvious threat on offense for the Mavs, how will they attack him?

The best defense against Dirk is an efficient offense. Dirk has not shown the same level of quickness this season, in part because of the truncated season and also because he is a year older. The Thunder need to make him work hard on defense. During the regular season they accomplished this and as a result Dirk did not have the quickness or elevation in his jump shot to bring effective scoring for the Mavs.

On the opposite end, the best way to defend Dirk is to realize that you cannot block his shot, so the best technique is to body up against him. Collison may be more effective in this role than Ibaka, so it will be interesting to see how OKC chooses to guard Dirk especially in the post.

5. What's your prediction for the series?

I won't be surprised if the Mavs win one of the first two games on the Thunder's home court; OKC has a tendency to not be quite ready when things get going. However, I think something like that will serve as a wake-up call for OKC and they will rediscover the necessary focus and intensity for the playoffs. Thunder in 6.

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