2011 NBA WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS -- Mavericks vs. Thunder: My Top 10 Observer-ations
I'll have my position-by-position breakdown complete with, yes, the highly (smirk) coveted prediction tomorrow, but let's get this party started pronto. Back in 1994 I covered the Mavericks for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and a team that featured point guards Jason Kidd and J.J. Barea. Well, not exactly. But funny how sports works. Kidd was 21 then, the NBA's co-Rookie of the Year with Grant Hill, and he looked up to the oldest player on the team -- his 29-year-old backup with an undersized body and oversized heart and the savvy to be a productive NBA player at under 6 feet. Yep, before Barea in a Mavericks' uniform there was Scotty Brooks, these days better known as the head coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Said Brooks to me one day at the team's old Home Furnishings practice gym on Welch Road in Addison, "Jason's a once-in-a-lifetime player. If he keeps his head on straight, he can be one of the best of all time." Bingo.
9. What a couple of weeks for Mavs coach Rick Carlisle. At 2-2 in the Portland series, I truly believe he was two losses from losing his job. Now he's joined Larry Brown, George Karl, Pat Riley, Alex Hannum and Bill Fitch as the only coaches to lead three different teams to the conference finals. Carlisle's teams in Detroit '03 and Indianapolis '04 both lost in the East Finals. Coincidentally, Carlisle and Brooks played on the same pro team -- the old Continental Basketball Association's Albany Patroons back in '87.
8. Was thinking about all the teams in the playoffs and there's no doubt the most dominant team has been your Mavericks. They are 8-2 in the postseason, and in one of the losses they blew a 23-point lead. Dallas is 5-0 at AAC by an average of 14.6 points, with no game closer than six.
7. Not sure about Kevin Durant's post-game backpack look, but he was a beast yesterday in OKC's clincher. After missing seven of his first nine shots he still managed 39 points. And the much-maligned Russell Westbrook produced a rarity -- the Game 7 triple-double. In Durant's time on the court in the playoffs, OKC is +66; Westbrook +58. The NBA leaders in plus/minus: the Bulls' Luol Deng (+126), Derrick Rose (+117) and then Dirk Nowitzki (+108).
6. Texas-OU, here we come. In the final minutes of yesterday's 105-90 Game 7 victory over the Grizzlies, Thunder fans started "We want Dallas!" The Mavs were 2-1 against OKC in the regular season, but they haven't met since January 6. Dirk was hurt early in one game and all the meetings came before OKC's facelift trade for Kendrick Perkins.
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Rest vs. Rust? The Thunder played Sunday; the Mavs last played May 8. Since 1964, 18 teams have had eight-plus days off between a playoff series. In Game 1 of the next series they are only 9-9, but have won 11 of the 18 series.
4. I'm not suggesting taking the Thunder lightly, but if you're one of those Mavs fans who dares to peek ahead, Dallas was 2-0 against the Heat this season and 0-2 against the Bulls. Because of better regular-season records, Chicago (62 wins) or Miami (58) would have the NBA Finals homecourt advantage over the Mavs (57).
3. Fear the beard, part 2? In the World Series it was the Giants' Brian Wilson and his flagrant facial bush who slammed the door on the Rangers. Don't think OKC's James Harden is as dominant of a closer but, just the same, I wouldn't be upset if he shaved before the series.
2. For those -- like owner Mark Cuban -- who keep telling me I'm crazy when I say there is indeed a psychological connection, even scars, from 2006 lingering on the Mavs' 2011 squad, allow me to defer to Dirk. Interviewed on ESPN's "Sunday Conversation," he said: "It's going to stick with us the rest of our lives until we make the moment go away. Thinking about how we were up 2-0 and lost is still a sour note. Hopefully we can do something about that." I know only Dirk and Jason Terry are around from that team, but aren't they also the leaders of this squad?
1. Like all NBA playoff series, this one is about matchups and, in particular, pace. For the Mavs, the slower the better. They will lose a track meet to the twentysomething Thunder. Simple: If the Mavs keep their turnovers reasonable -- I'm talking 12 or fewer per game -- they win this series. If not..."They bring major athletes at you," Carlisle said. "Great speed and quickness at four positions. Our focus has to be on transition defense and taking care of the basketball. If we turn the ball over consistently we can lose to this team."
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