Sunday, May 15, 2011

Mavericks vs. Thunder Series Pick

The case for the Mavs is pretty clear: they've been the best team in the playoffs this year. They are 8-2, coming off the sweep of the defending NBA champions. Their bench has been great, they might have the best player in Dirk Nowitzki, and they've got defensive depth to go after Kevin Durant. The Thunder struggled against quality bigs in the Grizzly series; the Mavs have that. The Mavs have home court, a massive rest advantage, and tons more experience. While Dallas has been a poor playoff team in the past, that was when they were first round favorites; getting into the third has only been done once, and that was a win over the Spurs that got them to their Finals loss against the Heat. They've been on fire from the three point line, and that's the way to beat the Thunder, along with slowing it down, going old man dirty, and making it a half court game. They are the clear favorites, and should be.

The case for the Thunder is very different. Unlike the Mavs, they are young, athletic, and not likely to care too much about the rest advantage; they certainly had legs in the triple overtime Game Four that saved their season in Memphis, and the Game Five that preserved their home court two days later. They may have the best player in the series in Kevin Durant, and they've got a lightning-quick point that can give Jason Kidd and Jason Terry massive problems. DeShawn Stevenson and Shawn Marion has been great on defense, but they are not better than Tony Allen and Shane Battier. Unlike the Lakers series, JJ Barea should get crushed here against Eric Maynor and James Harden.

The last point about the Thunder is a purely emotional one. The Thunder are too young to be a good favorite yet, and they've just spent two series being favorites. This is where they are supposed to lose, with Durant and Westbrook learning the lessons that they will use in future years, when they really compete for the crown. After all, the oldest guy in the Thunder lineup is 26-year-old Kendrick Perkins, assuming that you aren't thinking too hard about Nick Collison.

But this isn't the year to overrate playoff experience, since a ton of it is now sitting home in Los Angeles, Boston, San Antonio and Orlando. This is the year where the next generation has broken through the door, changed all the rules, let teams with shoot-first point guards succeed, said goodbye to grind it out and hurt the eyes wins. From a pure talent standpoint, with the exception of Dirk, the Mavs are an easier matchup than the Grizzlies; there is no volleyball-esque bigs like Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph here.

So I think the Thunder steal game one, win their home games, and shock the world. I think Harden is better than Terry, and that Ibaka and Collison give Dirk issues. I think Peja Stojakovic goes back to having weak legs and few clean looks, and that Westbrook is going to develop a taste for triple doubles after that Game Seven media support. And I think that at the end of the day, when you have to pick which team is going to win a series, you go with the team with the best player. Dallas Fan thinks I'm nuts for thinking Durant is better than Nowitzki. In a long series, with seven games happening in as little as two weeks... I think he isn't. Thunder in six.

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