Dallas Mavericks vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
I couldn't imagine a funner pairing. Two of my three favorite teams battling it out for the Western Conference Finals (reminds me a lot of the Mavs-Suns series in 2006). Dirk and Durant are two of my very favorite playas in the NBA (interestingly enough, the last time I cheered against Durant, I applauded him throughout the game - against KU in Allen Fieldhouse). However, there is little doubt in my mind that my allegiances align with the Mavs (and with The Man). I am unbelievably excited for this to begin (only the premier of Franklin & Bash could compare), and will be glued to my TV for every single minute of this series.
*Dirk's Last Run? With Dirk's body wearing down more and more (although, he seemingly reinvents his game a little bit every year as the process proceeds) you have to wonder if this is his last chance at a ring. The Mavs are the type of team that can only truly make runs in transition years in the NBA (their last run coming before the Laker years). The Spurs were around before that, but they do the same thing, just better (however, even they are done now). The NBA is easier to forecast than the other professional sports, and we are entering a time that will be dominated by the Heat, Thunder, Bulls, and maybe Knicks. Once the Thunder evolve into what they are destined to be, the Mavs will have a much tougher time upstaging them. So even though I only project one dominant team in the Western Conference over the next handful of years, I expect them to be so superior to the Mavs, and that this will indeed be Dirka Dirka's last run at an NBA Championship.
*Rusty Mavs - My biggest concern (or atleast 1 of 2) is the time off in between games for the Mavs. They last played two Sundays ago. That's 8 days in between. The time off may be good for the legs of fogies like J-Kidd and Peja and Marion and Terry and Dirk (damn, this team is old), but you never encounter anything like that throughout the entire season. Basketball is a rhythm sport (and they were coming off the best rhythm I may have ever seen), and it's impossible to tell whether they still have the touch or not. This has me very worried about Game 1 for the Mavs, where it'll take atleast a quarter for them to get back into rhythm with each other. In fact, I fully expect the Thunder to come in and steal home court advantage tonight because of the Mavs' reliance on jumpshots.
*Mavs as favorites? I was all excited about how the Mavs were sitting pretty following their clubbing of the Lake show, because of how little they were being talked about nationally. Their performance in Game 4 was the best game a team has played in these NBA Playoffs (not as big a case of the Lakers quitting as everybody, including me, wanted to think). The barrage of 3 pointers was really like nothing I had seen before (Jason Terry and Peja StojankyNuts combining to go 15-16. Seriously. 15 of 16.). The Lakers may have been well on their way to quitting, but we'll never really know because the Mavs buried them alive. Not to mention, how everybody had foolishly fallen head over heels for the Heat after squeaking out victories against a team who's 2nd best player had 1 elbow. The Mavs were flying perfectly under the radar, just how they like it, or so I had thought...
But the past two days I've been watching ESPN and I literally haven't heard a single expert pick the oKC Thunder. Not a single one. I think I saw a fan poll on the series winner that came out to about 50-50, but I was in some kind of haze at the time. Needless to say, the Mavs do not thrive in the role as favorites (although this team has been turning many of their perceptions into misconceptions). I think if it were up to them, they'd fly under the radar the whole way, not necessarily as the underdogs, but just not talked about. They don't want the spotlight shone on them (hence the meltdown in the Finals, where the lights are the brightest). However, if they are able to handle the spotlight, and their new roles as favorites, I believe it's finally time to put everything we once thought about the Mavs to bed.
*Series Breakdown/The Wire - My biggest worry is who will guard Russell Westbrook (Stringer Bell), who scares the bejesus outta me. He seemed to have finally found the correct balance in Game 7 as a scoring point guard and a distributor to Kevin Durant (Avon Barksdale). Kidd is definitely not fast enough. DeShawn probably isn't either. Terry is, but he gives up a lot in size to RWB (I will say that I like Marion covering Durant though). I think we might see a lot of Corey Brewer in this series, the most athletic perimeter player the Mavs have (and somebody I believe in). It might take a few games to figure that out though (however, coaching advantage goes to the Mavs). I'm also very excited for the rebounding wars (corner wars) between Kendrick Perkins (Slim Charles) and Tyson Chandler (Chris Partlow). Meanwhile, Jason Whitlock (Prop Joe) thinks Serge Iblocka (hopefully not Kenard) could provide the best cover on Dirk (Omar) in the NBA. All these matchups got me feeling a little bit like Clay Davis...."Sheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeit."
*PreDirktion - This series boils down to who's on a bigger mission - Dirk or Durant. While I think Durant showed great prowess in a Game 7 victory, I think he knows he's got many years ahead of him. Meanwhile, I think Dirk has been meditating somewhere in the Himalayas for the past 8 days, and is ready to fully seize the opportunity in front of him. He can't say "there's always next year" as easily as The Durantula can. So, even though I began writing this preview with the belief that I was picking the Thunder, I have settled back on to the Mavs, because I truly believe that Dirk is on a mission.
Mavs over Thunder in 7