The Dallas Mavericks have been living off the glory of their NBA championship all season while simultaneously plotting their salary cap strategy to lure Deron Williams to Dallas next season, and Dwight Howard the year after. Jason Kidd will be elsewhere next season, Brendan Haywood will be amnestied, and a good portion of Dirk Nowitzki’s supporting cast figure to be castoffs if the plan to lure D-Will succeeds. The Thunder? Everybody loved them through March, and then they went 8-7 in April and watched the Spurs surpass them for first place in the West. Here are five factors that will come into play in this series:
- THE DIRK FACTOR: Who will guard him? Serge Ibaka is long and rangy, but more of his defensive prowess is exhibited under the basket when he comes as a help defender and blocks shots. With Nowitzki’s 7-foot frame and high release point, his jump shot is practically indefensible, and coach Scott Brooks took Ibaka off him in the last meting and let Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison defend him. Dirk has not been quite the efficient player we’ve grown accustomed to. His field goal percentage (.457) is his worst since his second season, and his scoring average (21.6) is his lowest since is rookie season. He is option A, B and C don the stretch, whereas the Thunder will look to Kevin Durant, then Russell Westbrook, then James Harden. All have shown they can come through in the clutch.
- THE MATRIX FACTOR: Coach Rick Carlisle considers him the most diverse defenders in the league because he can guard five positions. No doubt he can cause fits for Russell Westbrook, who is too speedy to be checked by Jason Kidd. But can he have an impact on Durant if Carlisle moves Nowitzki off him? Like Dirk, Durant has a high release and a pure shot — and if you measured him in sneakers, he’d be closer to 7 feet tall than the 6’9″ he is listed at. Dude hasn’t been 6’9″ since he walked onto the UT campus as a freshman. The Mavs will have to pick their poison in deciding which player they want to limit, and the guess here is they try to rattle the combustible Westbrook at every turn. In three games against Dallas this season, Westbrook had 15 turnovers and just 11 assists.
- THE HARDEN FACTOR: Last sen taking a vicious elbow to the side of his head from Metta World Peace, Harden has already passed a series of league-mandate post-concussion tests and has been cleared to play. In three games against the Mavs, Harden averaged 13.7 points and shot 40 percent, both below his season averages. Don’t be surprised to see his minutes limited if Thabo Selolosha is playing effectively against Jason Terry. All concussions are not the same, and the Thunder told him to stay home Wednesday night to avoid he bright lights in the arena.
- THE HISTORY FACTOR: Nearly every member of the Thunder has a vivid memory of how last season ended, The Mavs celebrating on their home floor in Dallas after taking the series in five games. It was a classic case of veteran experience and moxie trumping youth, and what we’ll learn about the Thunder is whether they are a vengeful bunch or whether they will dwell too much on the past. Oklahoma City won the season series 3-1, but the teams played twice in the first six games of the season, again on Feb. 1 and haven’t seen each other since March 5.
- THE DINOSAUR FACTOR: Both teams have one — Jason Kidd with the Mavs; Derek Fisher with the Thunder. And you have to expect, using history as a guide, that one of them will have to take a fairly important 3-pointer late in the fourth quarter, maybe even with a game on the line. Fisher has made 11 3-pointers (.314) in his 20 games since joining the Thunder. Kid took 273 shots this season, only 50 of which were 2-pointers. He was 79-for-223 on 3s, a .354 accuracy mark. His 6.2 ppg was a career-low. If the basketball gods smile on us, we’ll get to see these two go shot for shot at the end of one game.
SHERIDAN: Thunder in 5.
HUBBARD: Mavericks in 6.
HEISLER: Thunder in 5.
BERNUCCA: Thunder in 7.
HAMILTON: Thunder in 6.
PERKINS: Thunder in 6.
ZAGORIA: Thunder in 6.
PARK: Thunder in 6.
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