Sunday, April 29, 2012

Mad Props Playoff Preview - Thunder v. Mavericks

#2 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. #7 Dallas Mavericks (Game 1, Saturday 9:30 PM, at OKC)

December 29, 2011, @ OKC – Thunder 104, Mavericks 102: Behind 29 and 10 from Dirk, Dallas takes a lead into the final second, when it is confiscated by Kevin Durant.

January 2, @ Dallas – Mavericks 100, Thunder 87: Dirk with another outstanding performance this one sufficient to end OKC’s perfect start.

February 1, @ Dallas – Thunder 95, Mavericks 86: Mavericks inexplicably (well, Jason Terry had 25 and Shawn Marion and Brandan Wright combined for 24) stay within single digits despite 33 from Russ, 23-12 from KD, 10 blocks from Serge and a near-triple-double by Harden.

March 5, @ OKC – Thunder 95, Mavericks 91: Despite 27 from Dirk and a combined 12-for-38 by Westbrook and Durant, an 8-0 run to close the game gives the Thunder 30th win in 38 games.

Got It Made: Had you asked me a month ago, I’d have pushed every last chip to the middle of the table with Russ Westbrook. Between Jason Kidd and Roddy Buckets, the Mavs do have a player with the combination of size, speed and defensive acumen to slow Russ down. However, Russ has struggled recently (sub-40% shooting in 5 of last 9 regular season games; 4-of-24 from 3 in that span). In the meantime, the Thunder have dropped seven straight against playoff-caliber competition. I’m not eager to wager against them (in Game 1, Russ’ 28 and 5 paid, though not the one-point victory), out it’s become a bit difficult to blindly assume the consistency of either.

Now, this may be a bit obvious, but if you’re looking to the upside with OKC, Kevin Durant is the way to go. For starters, and I will repeat this as often as is necessary… Greatness is, for lack of a better word, good. Greatness works.

Durant only topped the likely 28/29 at which his lines will be set once in four games against Dallas in 2011-12, but he scored 22+ on each occasion, including a 27 in Dallas January 2, and shot an uncharacteristic 13-for-37 (combined) in his other 22- and 23-point showings. Combine this with the fact that he lit up the Mavs to the tune of 28+ in each 2010-11 regular season meeting and 23+ in each of five playoff matchups, the fact that he’s a 28.6-point per game playoff scorer and had dropped 29+ in five on the trot entering the playoffs and baby, you got a stew goin’! His 25-point Game 1 showing fell three-ish short of the mark, but unless you’re expecting a great many more sub-40% shooting performances from KD, I’d look to capitalize on the opportunity wager on the 23 year-old, three-time scoring champ.

For those looking for upside with the Mavs, Dirk Nowitzki is as he has been against OKC, scoring 26+ in three of four 2011-12 regular season meetings and 25 in Game 1 (though this required two LATE free throws) after going for 26+ in five of seven 2010-11 meetings, including four of five in the conference finals games. As long as he is healthy, Dirk will be on the floor, he will be the primary option and will still be Dirk Nowitzki.

Where is likely to find a bit more value however, is with the Mavs’ #2 option – though I bet not if you ask him – Jason Terry. A man that I have referred to as “a sane J.R. Smith,” Terry’s consistent productivity against the OKC makes him an excellent limited-downside play. Heading into last night’s ultra-efficient playoff opener (20 on an awesome 8-of-10 from the field; 4-of-5 from 3), which paid on the over (14.5) by halftime, Terry had scored 15+ in each of the team’s four previous meetings, whether shooting extremely well in two games at home (a combined 40, on 13-of-22), or struggling (34 on 13-of-36) in two in OKC. In these teams’ seven 2010-11 meetings, despite only shooting 50% or better twice, Terry hit double figures six times, including three outings of 20+.

Despite Dirk’s ownership of the Mavs and Terry’s the role as sixth man, the gap in their roles narrows significantly come playoff time. There is a chance it won’t be pretty, but Jason Terry, neither a hothead nor a foul trouble risk, will be on the floor (he’s played 29+ minutes in each of his last 11 v. OKC) and will, as he always does, ooze fortitude as the Mavs’ top backcourt option.

Look To Fade: Given the likelihood of seeing a prop line for any member of the Thunder other than the KD/Russ/Harden/Ibaka quartet hovering somewhere just north of zero, I am not particularly eager to step in against any of OKC’s studs. Meanwhile, on Dallas’ side of the ledger, I will be looking to cash in on the inability of a former All-Star to recapture past “glory. “

In the absence of a true third offensive option for the Mavericks, I am looking for Vince Carter – once half man, half amazing, now, well, not – to receive a totally unwarranted Jason Terry-esque level of respect from oddsmakers. It is wroth noting that n 2010-11, following his trade from Orlando to Phoenix, Vince torched the Thunder, hanging 28, 29 and 33 on them in an eight-week span. It’s also worth noting that a) he hit 14-of-28 3-pointers in the aforementioned games, b) no one’s perpetuating the “VC: primary option” myth anymore and c) with all due respect to Jason Kidd, he’s no longer flanked by Steve Nash.

Rather, as a Maverick, Carter is little more than role player. In 61 regular season games he played fewer than 20 minutes (11) more times than he played more than 30 (10) and failed to score in double figures in nearly half (30) of his appearances. Only six times did he attempt more than four free throws, though his season high of nine did come against OKC on January 2 and slightly more than a third of the time did he connect on more than 40% of his shots. In four regular season meetings against OKC, he averaged 7.5 points (14, a pair of 8s and a goose egg) and made a combined 9-of-28 shots, before scoring 13 (on 5-of-14) in Game 1.

The Call: Thunder in 5. Look for Dirk and Jason Terry to hang about 45 per game, for Shawn Marion to valiantly battle Kevin Durant tooth and nail. However, Dallas simply does not possess the depth, athleticism or quality to hang with the Thunder. Kevin Durant will wind up averaging 30 in this series, Russ won’t be far behind and Ibaka and Harden, the “secondary concerns,” will command more attention than Dallas can afford.

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