The Mavs looked to have the better of this matchup during the regular season, but all three games were played before the trade that sent Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic to the Celtics for Kendrick Perkins. So this is an extremely difficult series to handicap.
The main focus of interest, naturally, will be around Nowitzki and Durant, and the schemes to contain them. It looks like the Thunder will open with Ibaka against Nowitzki, which will cause the Thunder all sorts of problems on defense. First of all, because Ibaka can probably do little to slow Dirk out on the perimeter. But second and more importantly, because Ibaka will be out on the perimeter, away from the rim-defense at which he excels. For this reason, I would not be at all surprised to see the Thunder go small in this series, with Durant at the four against Nowitzki, and Ibaka at the five.
The Mavs on the other hand have a couple of natural defenders for Durant, Marion and Stevenson. And Nowitzki shouldn’t have too much trouble defending Ibaka, as he’s not a big focus of the Thunder’s offense.
All the more reason for the Thunder to go small. What happens if Durant is the four? Do the Mavs dare guard him with Nowitzki? I doubt it. It might force the Mavs into a zone, or make them go small to matchup. If Chandler is forced out of the game, that will be a huge win for the Thunder. The Mavs will be defenseless against Westbrook’s penetration.
Which leads us to the other great question: How will the Mavs contain Westbrook? I don’t see any individual defenders on the Mavs that can guard him. So I anticipate we will see some sort of trapping designed to get the ball out of his hands. Will Westbrook continue to find the open man, as he did so well in game 7 of the Memphis series? Or will he revert to trying to take the game over himself?
Carlisle is a fantastic coach, and he has a lot of pieces at his disposal. I like his chances to find the right combination of players and the right scheme against the Thunder. And in general, I like the Mavs roster over the Thunders. I like Chandler over Perkins. I like Kidd’s leadership over Westbrook’s. I like the Mavs overall experience. And I continue to think that the Thunder’s lack of outside shooting is going to bite them at some point. The Mavs have a huge edge in three point shooting, as the Lakers discovered.
So I’m betting the Mavs to win the series at -250, right? Ummm, no. One thing the Mavs don’t have is the next face of the NBA. He’s on the Thunder. I’m sitting this one out, unless I find a game line I disagree with.