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Thunder vs. Mavs

Western Conference Finals Preview

5/17/11

The fourth-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder (63-31) took a much longer road to the Western Conference Finals than the third-seeded Dallas Mavericks (65-27), as they survived a grueling seven-game semifinal series against the eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday with a 105-90 rout in the clincher.  However, some might argue that it is not as surprising to see the Thunder here as it is to see the Mavericks, who ousted the two-time defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers with a four-game sweep completed more than a week ago.
 
The biggest questions bettors need to answer before wagering on one of these two teams to advance to the NBA Finals are, how much merit should be given to the previous round’s performance and will that effort carry through to the Western Conference Finals?  The Grizzlies certainly played with more heart and determination throughout their series with Oklahoma City than the Lakers did in any one game against Dallas.
 
Keeping that key consideration in mind, it is a distinct possibility that the Mavericks have already peaked and will suffer a bit of a letdown against a younger, hungrier opponent in the Thunder.  The teams have met just once in 2011 with Oklahoma City earning a 99-95 road victory on January 6.  The other two meetings took place during the first three months of the regular season, with Dallas winning both, including 103-93 on the road December 27 despite losing star Dirk Nowitzki to a knee injury in the second quarter.  The Mavs got 21 points from Caron Butler, but he also suffered a serious knee injury three games later that has sidelined him ever since.
 
Butler’s return remains questionable, although he has progressed to the point that Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle would not rule him out.  The Mavericks have not really missed Butler’s 15 points per game because the trio of Jason Terry, Peja Stojakovic and DeSean Stevenson has been able to average nearly 32 between them in the playoffs.
 
Defense has been the main strength in helping Dallas go 13-0-1 against the spread in its last 14 games dating back to the end of the regular season.  No team has scored more than 97 points against the Mavs during that stretch, although the OVER is still 8-6 in those games.  They themselves have scored more than 100 points only three times in 10 postseason games compared to a Thunder team that has scored at least 100 eight times in 12 games.
 
Oklahoma City’s offense can take advantage of two positional mismatches with stars Russell Westbrook at point guard and Kevin Durant at small forward that could very well be the difference in the series.  That duo is the most dangerous to defend in the West and will be hard to deal with for an older Dallas team.  Back in their primes, Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion were known to be good defenders.  Neither player got much of a challenge defensively against the Lakers though, and both will show their age here.  When all is said and done and the cream finally rises to the top, look for Westbrook, Durant and the rest of the Thunder to roll into the championship round.
 
Series Pick: Oklahoma City Thunder (+190 at Bookmaker) in 6

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