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LeBron James and the Miami Heat face Derrick Rose's Chicago Bulls in the first elimination game of their 2011 NBA Playoffs Eastern Conference Finals series. The Heat hold a commanding 3-1 lead over the Bulls and with a win Thursday could schedule a rematch with the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 NBA Finals. The Mavs were able to take care of their business and eliminated the Oklahoma City Thunder in their Game 5 to win the Western Conference Finals 4-1.
The Heat have a tougher task ahead with their playoff elimination game coming on the road where as the Mavs were able to play Game 5 at home. Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, while certainly motivated, don't seem to have the same burning hunger that drove veterans stars Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion and Jason Kidd to put away Kevin Durant's young Thunder team.
The task of staving off elimination got more difficult for the Bulls with news this week that their backup center, Omer Asik, will is out with a broken leg. It's going to take an absolutely brilliant performance from Derrick Rose to keep the Bulls from going home with just one win. The Heat, like the Mavs, proved that experience and having the better player will make the difference in a close playoff game. It's been LeBron James coming up huge time and again in late game situations that's put Miami ahead three games to one.
Game 5 of the Miami Heat vs Chicago Bulls tips off at 8:30 p.m. ET / 5:30 PT on TNT. The game will be played at Chicago's American Airlines Arena. (NBA.com video preview of Game 5). Check here for a full schedule of the 2011 NBA Finals.
MIAMI, FL - MAY 24: (L-R) Kyle Korver #26, Carlos Boozer #5, Derrick Rose #1 and Luol Deng #9 of the Chicago Bulls look on against the Miami Heat in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2011 NBA Playoffs on May 24, 2011 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida. LeBron James. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
The Oklahoma City Thunder are down 3-1 to the Dallas Mavericks after losing both home games in their 2011 NBA Playoffs Western Conference Finals series. The two teams are back in Dallas Wednesday for Game 5 that could, and most likely will, end the series and send the Mavericks back to the NBA Finals for a probable rematch with the Miami Heat.
The Miami Heat are also just one game away from the NBA Finals after they were able to come through in overtime to beat the Chicago Bulls 101-93 in Game 4. The Heat lead the series 3-1. LeBron James and Derrick Rose duked it out in the final minutes and while Rose might be this year's MVP, there's no one who can doubt that James is still the better player. LeBron scored 13 points in the the fourth and overtime periods while Rose went just 1-8 and scored six points.
It was the bench play turned the tide in this close game. The Heat were able to get 33 minutes of solid defense and rebounding from Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller finally showed signs of life and scored nine points in the fourth quarter.
The Oklahoma City Thunder should be in this series but blew a 10-point lead in the final minutes of Game 4 at home. It was a sign of a young team who hasn't learned how to win in the playoffs and overcome a little adversity. In that case it was James Harden fouling out. Without Harden, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant couldn't score enough to fend off an unstoppable charge from Dirk Nowitzki.
OKC mostly likely won't survive the mental blow that comes with losing a playoff game in such fashion and the Mavericks are a veteran team that smells blood on the court. Expect the 2011 NBA Playoffs Western Conference series to end with a Mavericks victory. Game 5 between the Mavericks and Thunder tips off at 9:00 p.m. ET / 6:00 p.m. PT on ESPN. (NBA.com video preview of Game 5.)
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 23: Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder addresses the media after the Dallas Mavericks defeated the Thunder 112-105 in overtime in Game Four of the Western Conference Finals during the 2011 NBA Playoffs at Oklahoma City Arena on May 23, 2011 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
The Oklahoma City Thunder proved once again that if you have a major team flaw the NBA Playoffs will expose it. They went down 3-1 to the Dallas Mavericks in embarrassing fashion. The Chicago Bulls schedule calls for a heavy dose of LeBron James and the Heat defense on Tuesday with their Miami leading their 2011 NBA Playoffs Eastern Conference Finals Series.
Both the Bulls and the Thunder suffer from the same problem — neither team is able to generate good looks in the half court. The Bulls have even fewer offensive weapons than the Thunder but are a better defensive team. Oklahoma City is virtually helpless without James Harden on the floor once the defense focuses in on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
In both conference finals of 2011 NBA Playoffs the team with the best player on the court who’s been able to generate and hit shots. Dirk Nowitzki and LeBron James have proven to be the real stars and while both the Heat and Mavericks are flawed teams in their own right, they seem destined for a rematch in the NBA Finals.
Game 4 of the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls tips off at 8:30 p.m. ET / 5:30 p.m. PT.
MIAMI, FL – MAY 22: LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat looks on against the Chicago Bulls in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2011 NBA Playoffs on May 22, 2011 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida.(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
The Monday schedule for the 2011 NBA Playoffs features the Dallas Mavericks holding a 2-1 lead over the Oklahoma City Thunder playing Game 4 in OKC. All the talk is Russell Westbrook and his league-high turnover numbers and more importantly, his inability to get Kevin Durant the ball. This isn't news as much as it another example of the NBA Playoffs doing what they do -- expose players' and teams' flaws.
The Thunder can beat the Mavericks in Game 4 without Westbrook dishing the ball like Steve Nash, but as a team they are going to do a few things better. They absolutely can't go 1-17 from the three-point line as they did in Game 3. That's a given. They also need to relax and trust each other. Not uncommon for young teams, each player is trying to do too much on their own and the ball is not moving nearly enough.
The Thunder have several mismatches on the perimeter and especially need Kevin Durant to take advantage any time Peja Stojakovic is on the floor and James Harden can attack Jason Terry and create opportunities. OKC did a great job in turning a blow out game into a contest that at least lasted 48 minutes and forced the Mavericks into playing their starters until the final minute. Keeping pressure on the older team will pay off down the road, assuming the Thunder can win Game 4 and tie the series which guarantees at least two more games.
For the Mavericks to beat the Thunder on their floor for the second-straight game, they need to play aggressive perimeter ball denial defense on Kevin Durant. Shawn Marion had his best game of the series so far which carried Dallas to the win. They will need either Marion or one other perimeter player -- DeShawn Stevenson or Jason Terry -- to play great ball and compliment Dirk Nowitzki's shooting prowess. Dirk had an off game on Saturday which won't likely happen again.
Game 4 between the Dallas Mavericks and Oklahoma City Thunder tips off at 9:00 p.m. ET / 6:00 p.m. PT on ESPN. Dallas leads the series 2-1. (NBA.com video preview of Game 4).
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 21: James Harden #13 of the Oklahoma City Thunder dunks the ball in the fourth quarter while taking on the Dallas Mavericks in Game Three of the Western Conference Finals during the 2011 NBA Playoffs at Oklahoma City Arena on May 21, 2011 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
The Miami Heat hope to do on Sunday what the Oklahoma City Thunder couldn't on Saturday. The 2011 NBA Playoffs schedule has been full of surprises, and the Thunder going 1-17 from three and still being within striking distance of the Mavericks in the final minutes ranks up there. If Derrick Rose's Bulls can have a similar effect on LeBron James shooting abilities the result would probably be much worse.
All the talk after Chicago lost Game 2 at home was Derrick Rose poor shooting but his 7-23 game was only his third-worst of the 2011 NBA Playoffs and not much worse than his 10-27 and 11-27 games against the Hawks. Facing a better Heat defense and LeBron's ability to score in the clutch in the postseason make it mandatory that the Bulls get more scoring from Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng or even the cold-shooting Kyle Korver.
Someone needs to step up and score for the Bulls because Rose can only carry that team so far and the offensive system isn't dynamic enough to create open shots. For the Heat the question is how much can they get from Udonis Haslem in his second big game back. If he continues playing at near the level he did in Game 2, this series is over.
Game 3 of the Miami Heat vs. Chicago Bulls tips off at 8:30 p.m. ET / 5:30 p.m. PT on TNT.
CHICAGO, IL - MAY 18: Cheerleaders from the Chicago Bulls perform against the Miami Heat in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2011 NBA Playoffs on May 18, 2011 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois.(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
The best series still left standing in the 2011 NBA Playoffs resumes Saturday in Oklahoma City when the Thunder host the Dallas Mavericks in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals. The schedule won't give the elderly Dallas team much rest from here on in so we'll have to see if Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion can bring the energy they will need to keep up with young Thunder. Kevin Durant certainly isn't going get tired.
The question facing the the Thunder isn't about rest. The issue they have to deal with is Russell Westbrook's inconsistent and immature play. OKC needs the Westbrook who put up a triple double in Game 7 against Memphis. They need him to take care of the ball and be aggressive but not so aggressive that he's taking shots away from his talented teammates.
Game 3 of Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Dallas Mavericks is Saturday at 9:00 p.m. ET / 6:00 p.m. PT on ESPN.
DALLAS, TX - MAY 19: Dirk Nowitzki #41 of the Dallas Mavericks talks to the media after loosing to the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game Two of the Western Conference Finals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs on May 19, 2011 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Danny Bollinger/NBAE via Getty Images)
We are biased, but that doesn't stop the facts from being what they are. The fact is James Harden has been a better all around basketball player in the 2011 NBA Playoffs then the highly touted (and in my opinion, overrated) Russell Westbrook.
If you've been watching the Thunder at all, you've seen the offense stall countless times with the ball in Westbrook's hands as he drives into traffic and takes bad shots.
At the end of the third quarter of Thursday's Game 3 in Dallas, coach Scott Brooks had enough. After yet another turnover, Brooks benched Westbrook for the fourth quarter and instead of blowing a 16-point lead like they did against the Grizzlies, the Thunder out-scored the Mavericks 29-24 and won a huge road playoff game.
I love James Harden and had the pleasure of watching him play at Arizona State so clearly there's a bias. I've interviewed both players several times and it's obvious between the two who is more mature and shows more signs of being a great leader. All that aside, however, the numbers are also clearly in favor of Harden.
It's decision making that really sets the two apart. Former coach and ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy has said time and again on the broadcast that Harden is the better passer with the better court vision and does a much better job setting up his teammates. Here's two examples:
This play started as a high pick and roll with Perkins setting a good screen on Barea. Westbrook first took the ball left into open space but cut back to the middle into congestion. At the point you can see in the screen shot below, he's boxed in on his left with Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion in front of him.
Instead of making an easy pass to a wide open James Harden or a harder pass to an open Kevin Durant at the far wing or a dump down to an open Ibaka in the paint, he pulls up for a contested shot that he missed.
In this example James Harden ran a high pick and roll with Ibaka and drove the lane. The Dallas big came over to cut off his path to the rim but instead of tossing up a tough shot, Harden made a nice, but difficult, pass to Ibaka who got an open lay up.
These two examples typify the differences between Westbrook and Harden. Westbrook, supposedly a point guard, is always looking to shoot the ball which allows defenses to focus on him even more. If he saw the floor and was able to make quicker decisions, he would not only get his teammates good looks, but it would open things up for himself more as well since defenders couldn't cheat off so much.
Harden, who doesn't have near the speed, explosiveness, or ability to shoot off the dribble as Westbrook, uses his body well and makes better decisions. He can finish in traffic and can certainly shoot the ball, but he is the far better passer of the two.
It was a brave move for Scott Brooks to sit his temperamental and immature point guard in the fourth quarter of a playoff game. It's up to Westbrook now to show what kind of man he is when he steps on the court in Game 3. Can he put that behind him and learn the lesson and grow as a player or will he sulk and take even more bad shots?
The OKC Thunder need Russell Westbrook to play well to advance to the NBA Finals. So far, he's only shown glimpses of being a top-notch point guard. We'll find out Saturday what he's made of.
The 2011 NBA Playoff schedule gives us a day off on Friday. A well-earned break for the players and a much needed rest for the fans who have been blown away so far with both the Eastern and Western Conference Finals Series. The Miami Heat bounced back from getting whooped in Game 1 with a defensive clinic to beat the Chicago Bulls and even that series. The Oklahoma City Thunder used unexpected bench scoring to achieve the same result over the Dallas Mavericks.
In both series the team with the home court advantage lost it and now has to prove they can win on the road to advance to the 2011 NBA Finals. The Bulls struggled finding points as they've done countless times in the playoffs and while their defense was solid, the Heat had LeBron James to push them over the hump in the fourth quarter. James also defended Rose on numerous possessions late in Game 2.
Game 3 of the Miami Heat vs. Chicago Bulls is Sunday at 8:30 p.m. ET / 5:30 p.m. PT on TNT.
We said all along that match ups are going to be a problem for the Mavericks in this series. Shawn Marion did a poor job on Kevin Durant which forced Dallas to go to DeShawn Stevenson who can't rebound or score as effectively. The Thunder did a better job mixing up their coverages on Dirk Nowitzki and a key that doesn't get enough credit was the adjustment on J.J. Barea to prevent him from doing too much damage. Here in Arizona we're not surprised to see James Harden step up. He's a big time player and is getting the national recognition that he deserves.
Game 3 of Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Dallas Mavericks is Saturday at 9:00 p.m. ET / 6:00 p.m. PT on ESPN.
DALLAS, TX - MAY 19: (R-L) Thabo Sefolosha #2, Serge Ibaka #9 and Nazr Mohammed #8 of the Oklahoma City Thunder react late in the fourth quarter before the Thunder defeat the Dallas Mavericks 106-100 in Game Two of the Western Conference Finals during the 2011 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Center on May 19, 2011 in Dallas, Texas.(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
The Oklahoma City Thunder and Dallas Mavericks continue their 2011 NBA Playoffs Western Conference Finals Series on Thursday in Texas. Unlike the more generous schedule in the East, there are no long breaks for these two teams. Every game is played with only one day's rest which certainly favors the younger Thunder team. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook hope they can repeat the Game 2 feat from LeBron James' Miami Heat and tie the series with a road win.
With a different officiating crew that's not so prone to calling every tiny bit of contact, Game 2 should be a bit more reasonable when it comes to free throw shooting and big scores. We wouldn't expect to see Dirk Nowitzki take 24 shots from the line and put up 48 again and while Durant and Westbrook will get to the line, it probably won't be for a combined 37 attempts.
The match ups and schedule in this series favor Oklahoma. Thursday's Game 2 will show us if that's enough to overcome the Mavericks' experience and Dirk's brilliance. A Thunder win would put the Mavericks on their heals headed into two home games and a schedule that won't allow Dirk, Jason Kidd, Jason Terry and Shawn Marion much time to recover between games.
Defensively, the Thunder need to be patient with Nowitzki. Don't double team him early in the game and don't pressure him so hard that he drives and draws fouls or help defenders. Work him hard before the catch to move him off his spots but give him the mid-range jump shots even if he's making them. He won't likely hit 80 percent of them again.
For the Mavericks it's all about transition defense. They can't turn the ball over or take bad shots that lead to easy points for the Thunder. The OKC half court game is a work in progress, the more they can force Westbrook to run the offense and make good decisions, the better. They have to get more pressure on Durant before he catches the ball and at times mix in a full ball denial defense but can't get caught over playing too much or the Thunder will adjust as they did against the Grizzlies.
Game 2 tips off at 9:00 p.m. ET / 6:00 p.m. PT on ESPN. (NBA.com video preview of Game 2.)
Oklahoma City Thunder guard Thabo Sefolosha, right, and Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki scramble for a loose ball during the second half of Game 1 of the NBA basketball Western Conference finals Tuesday, May 17, 2011, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Game 1 went to the Dallas Mavericks and the story line is obviously the brilliant game from Dirk Nowitzki. He was on fire and as unguardable as any jump shooting player you will ever see. The Oklahoma City Thunder, however, have nothing to be ashamed about and in fact, they should extremely confident heading into Thursday's Game 2 of the 2011 NBA Playoffs Western Conference Finals. As great as Dirk was, Kevin Durant was better and with a slightly different set of variables, this series can easily tilt towards the Thunder.
This was a classic Joey Crawford and Bill Kennedy officiated game. Those are two of the most notoriously tight refs when it comes to calling the slightest contact, especially on the perimeter. Both teams benefited from this and in fact the Thunder had 43 free throw attempts compared to 36 for the Mavericks.
In future games that are officiated in a more "normal" way, the Mavs will be in trouble. In Game 1 Dirk was the beneficiary of a LOT of calls on his perimeter jump shots that he won't continue to get. The Thunder did get some ticky-tack fouls as well but with both Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and James Harden all attacking the paint, they are much more likely to earn free shots in this series.
The Mavericks looked a bit rusty in the first quarter but after shaking that off, the eight full days off really showed. That will carry over into Game 2 as well but for the rest of this series there's only one day off between each game. If the Thunder can steal Game 2 they will be sitting very pretty. If not, they will still have an edge that continues to move in their favor as the series moves on. The older Mavs are not going to have the legs to shoot 53 percent all series long.
The Mavericks zone defense threw the Thunder off a bit. They are a young team and didn't have much time to prepare for this series. But they will adjust and continue to take advantage of the many mismatches they have on the floor. Dallas is forced to use the zone because Peja Stojakovic can't guard Durant, Jason Kidd or Jason Terry can't guard Westbrook, and J.J. Barea can't guard anyone.
The Thunder will need to improve a bit on the defensive end but will continue to punish the Mavericks perimeter defenders and put incredible pressure on Tyson Chandler to defend everything. We saw the Magic struggle with the same problem and they had Dwight Howard as the back stop.
Barea has a habit of coming into the fourth quarter and lighting teams up. You could see the Thunder weren't ready for him and Brooks panicked when he tried to match down by playing Nate Robinson. I doubt we see that mistake again.
The Thunder did a fantastic job staying close in Game 1 despite all the advantages in the Mavericks' favor. Game 2 between the Thunder and Mavericks is schedule for Thursday at 9:00 p.m. ET / 6:00 p.m. PT on ESPN. If the Mavericks lose that game, they are in serious trouble.
Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki (41) of Germany dribbles past Oklahoma City Thunder center Kendrick Perkins during the second half of Game 1 of the NBA basketball Western Conference finals Tuesday, May 17, 2011, in Dallas. The Mavericks won 121-112. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Game 1 between the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat was an interesting affair. It was a tight game through the first half and then the Bulls defense locked up LeBron James and Dwyane Wade and held the Heat stars to just 11 combined points. Game 2 of the 2011 NBA Playoffs Eastern Conference Finals is on the schedule for Wednesday and should answer the burning question of this series -- are the Bulls that good or were the Heat just mentally and emotionally unprepared for this series.
There's a lot of noise out there that the Heat are going to collapse after their 21-point loss but I don't see it happening. There was a time earlier in the season when it was fair to question the mental toughness and heart of LeBron's "Super Friends" but these guys have bounced too many times. As much as we might want to hate them, I would expect a much better Game 2 showing against Derrick Rose and his group.
Even with the Heat playing better, as they almost certainly will, the game is still in Rose's hands on the offensive end. In his last two games he was much better with his shot selection and the Chicago attack was far more balanced. But Rose alone won't win this series with his shooting. Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer need to play big on the offensive end and since Rose has the ball at the start of every possession, it's on him to make that happen.
Game 2 between the Bulls and Heat tips off at 9:00 p.m. ET / 6:00 p.m. PT on TNT. (Video preview via NBA.com.)
Miami Heat's LeBron James, left, looks to the basket as Chicago Bulls' Luol Deng defends during the second quarter in Game 1 of the NBA Eastern Conference finals basketball series Sunday, May 15, 2011 in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
The Dallas Mavericks will finally be lacing up their shoes in anger on Tuesday night as the schedule wakes them from their eight-day hibernation and host the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 1 of the 2011 NBA Playoffs Western Conference Finals. There's plenty of bad blood already between Oklahoma and Texas college football fans, adding a little professional basketball rivalry can only increase the fun.
Kevin Durant (22) and Russell Westbrook (22) lead a team who's average age of their top five players (in minutes played) is 22.4-years-old. They are exceptionally skilled and if they can stay together along with James Harden (21) and Serge Ibaka (21), make up the nucleus of a potential Western Conference dynasty.
In the playoffs, however, experience matters and the Mavericks are loaded with that. Jason Kidd (37) and Dirk Nowitzki (32) will try and drag their elderly team up and down the court and keep the Thunder in check. The average age of the Dallas top five players is a full decade older than their opponent.
Interestingly enough, the biggest question marks on both teams are at the same position. Jason Kidd will struggle with Westbrook's speed but the Thunder point guard needs to raise the level of his mental game and be smart about when to attack and keep his eyes up and look to create when he does.
Game 1 of the Thunder vs. Mavericks tips off at 9:00 p.m. ET / 6:00 p.m. PT on ESPN. (Video preview via NBA.com.)
This file photo shows Dallas Mavericks point guard Jason Kidd (2) and forward Dirk Nowitzki, of Germany, (41) walking on the court in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the New Orleans Hornets in New Orleans. Refreshed by a full week off, Kidd and Nowitzki are gearing up for another chance at a title. In their way are Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder in a Western Conference finals that opens Tuesdsay night. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky,File)
The Oklahoma City Thunder and the Dallas Mavericks are set to tip off their 2011 NBA Playoff Western Conference Finals series with Game1 in Dallas on Tuesday. It should be an exciting series given the star power, talent and depth of both teams. The Mavericks are favored by most experts to win the series and understandably so.
The Mavericks have the better record, more experience, and the best player in the series. Those are all the same reasons the Lakers were predicted to beat Dallas and that didn't turn out so well. I originally was leaning towards the Mavericks as well, but after thinking more about the match ups and seeing how the Thunder responded in Game 7 against the Grizzlies, I've changed my pick.
Here's how I see the series breaking down:
The Mavericks Tyson Chandler has been a revelation this season. Or perhaps a better word is a resurrection. After a couple of injury-plagued years (that ironically nixed a trade to OKC), he's given the Mavericks everything they've needed and more. Defense and rebounding and the ability to at least be a threat offensively.
The Thunder upgraded the position with the mid-season trades for Kendrick Perkins and Nazr Mohammed. But Perkins isn't nearly as mobile on the perimeter as Chandler, isn't as long, isn't as athletic, and isn't a scoring threat at all.
There's nothing more to be said about Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Durant. Both of these guys are fantastic perimeter players. The real story here is their defenders and which team is better positioned to at least bother the other team's star.
The Thunder will throw Serge Ibaka at Dirk. Ibaka is mobile enough to stop Dirk's drive and strong enough to at least not get killed in the post and active enough to keep Dirk off the glass. No one on the planet can stop Dirk's fadeaway so the key is to take away as much of the rest of his game and Ibaka can do a decent job with that. Nick Collison can also eat some minutes and at least hold his own on Dirk and bang him around a bit.
The Mavs are a deep team but with the Caron Butler injury they have a hole at small forward. They will be forced to play Shawn Marion big minutes on Kevin Durant. If this was 2005, that would be a good use of Marion's defensive skills. Unfortunately, Father Time has slowed The Matrix and it will be hard for Marion to stay with Durant throughout the series and Dallas gives up floor spacing with Marion on the court.
Behind Marion, the Mavs can play Corey Brewer at times but Peja Stojakovic who played a lot of small forward minutes doesn't stand a chance defending Durant. The Mavericks also like to run a three guard line up with Jason Kidd playing small forward next to Jason Terry and J.J. Barea. The Thunder will eat that up.
Advantage: Thunder +
The Mavericks quick guards torched the Lakers but will have a much harder time with the Thunder. J.J. Barea still might drive on Westbrook at times but on the other end the 5-10 Barea will be chewed up by Russell's strength and size.
Jason Kidd is effective playing off the ball but the Thunder can throw James Harden or Thabo Sefalosha at him. There's not a single guard Kidd will face that he can post up. On the other end however, Harden and Westbrook will have a size advantage on Terry and Barea. OKC doesn't have a post up player on their front line, but if they are smart, they will abuse the smaller Dallas guards in the paint and force Rick Carlisle to sacrifice offense and bring in his defensive players - Brewer or DeShawn Stevenson.
Advantage: Thunder ++
The Dallas Mavericks with Chandler and Brendan Haywood were well positioned to defend the Lakers interior size. The Thunder don't score in the paint which negates that advantage. If the Mavericks go small and play Dirk at the five, the Thunder can answer and still create a mismatch with Durant at the four. OKC can then play Harden, Sefalosha (or Cook) and Westbrook on the wings and still have both shooting, penetration and size.
The Thunder would be smart to be the team that goes small first and play Collison at the five with Ibaka and Durant at the four and three. Collison and Ibaka space the floor well enough for Durant or Westbrook or Harden to abuse their smaller defender in the post. In this series I wouldn't be surprised if that's the Thunder's best five-man unit even if Chandler is on the floor. Tyson is not enough of a post threat to negate the advantage.
Advantage: Thunder +
This is where the edge shifts back to Dallas. Between home court and Dirk's desire and leadership and toughness, the Mavericks have every opportunity to win this series and get back to the NBA Finals. If they do beat OKC, it will be on the back of Dirk Nowitzki and with some help from the Thunder's inexperience.
There's been a lot of talk about Westbrook and Durant being able to work together and in this case, it's not just a media-hyped story. We've seen examples of Westbrook losing playoff games with his selfish play and we've seen him at his best, being a facilitator, defender and rebounder. Which parts of his game the 22-year-old chooses to feature will decide this series.
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 15: Forward Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder reacts after making a three-point shot against the Memphis Grizzlies in Game Seven of the Western Conference Semifinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs on May 15, 2011 at Oklahoma City Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
The Dallas Mavericks must be dying to get started with their Western Conference Finals series against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The schedule calls for the I-35 series to kick off on Tuesday with the third-seed Mavericks holding both home court advantage, a six-point spread for Game 1, and favorable predictions from most experts. The Thunder are a flawed team in many ways but they showed a lot of growth in their Game 7 win and will not go quietly into the north Texas night like the Lakers.
The Thunder eliminated the Memphis Grizzlies in Sunday's Game 7 behind their best performance of the 2011 NBA Playoffs. Russell Westbrook's 14 assists and 10 rebounds were far more impressive than his 40-point Game 4. Kevin Durant regained his stride with some smart adjustments against the aggressive Grizzlies pressure and dropped 39 to win the series. But mostly it was Nick Collison's defense against Zach Randolph that helped hold Memphis to just 58 points through three quarters while the game was being decided.
James Harden has grown into the all-around player his fans in Arizona knew he could be and he's getting the national recognition that only a deep playoff run can bring to a young player. The Thunder go 10 deep in their rotation and have a versatile line up that proved they can adjust to various styles of play.
The Mavs eliminated the LA Lakers in a four-game sweep seemingly months ago and at this point are sick and tired of inter-squad practices. The oldest team in the NBA Playoffs is now rested and perhaps a bit rusty. Another very deep team, Dallas has proven it's ability to play both ends of the floor and with Dirk Nowitzki they roll out the most unguardable player in the postseason so far.
It's the several favorable match ups in this series which pushed my prediction. Harden has size over Jason Terry but still can defend him fairly well. Jason Kidd and J.J. Barea will both struggle with Russell Westbrook's speed and size and the Mavericks thinnest position happens to be the small forward where Kevin Durant plays.
On first glance there's every reason to predict the Mavericks will win this series and advance to the NBA Finals but looking deeper at the match ups, the edge goes to the Thunder. If Westbrook can avoid taking too many bad shots and remember that his team is at its best when he's passing, rebounding and defending, the Thunder can win this series.
Prediction: OKC Thunder 4-2
The full TV schedule for the series follows. All games will be broadcast on ESPN.
Game 1 in Dallas, Tuesday, May 17, 9:00 p.m. ET / 6:00 p.m. PT
Game 2 in Dallas, Thursday, May 19, 9:00 p.m. ET / 6:00 p.m. PT
Game 3 in OKC, Saturday, May 21, 9:00 p.m. ET / 6:00 p.m. PT
Game 4 in OKC, Monday, May 23, 9:00 p.m. ET / 6:00 p.m. PT
Game 5 in Dallas, Wednesday, May 25, 9:00 p.m. ET / 6:00 p.m. PT*
Game 6 in OKC, Friday, May 27, 9:00 p.m. ET / 6:00 p.m. PT*
Game 7 in Dallas, Wednesday, May 25, 9:00 p.m. ET / 6:00 p.m. PT*
Dallas Mavericks forward Shawn Marion passes the ball around Oklahoma City Thunder's Russell Westbrook, right, in the first half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, Jan. 6, 2011, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
The 2011 NBA Playoffs have been extremely predictable on the Eastern Conference side of the bracket. That ends with the Eastern Conference Finals between the Miami Heat and the Chicago Bulls. Anything can happen in this series that features the MVP winners of that last two seasons, Derrick Rose and LeBron James
To get here the Heat rolled through the 76ers and Celtics with a combined 8-2 record and have looked like the most complete team in the playoffs so far. Miami's opponent had a bit more trouble with the Pacers and Hawks in their first two playoff rounds despite the Bulls going 8-3. It took Rose leading his team to comeback wins three times to avoid a longer first round series and Chicago's offense has been shaky at times.
Defensively, the Heat and Bulls are the top two teams left in the playoffs. The Bulls with a defensive efficiency rating of 100.4 and the Heat right behind with a 101.7. Both teams play at a slow pace and both teams were dominate on the glass in their first two rounds with the slight rebound edge to Miami.
Offensively, the numbers are almost identical as well with the Bulls scoring 108.6 points per 100 possessions and the Heat scoring 108.4. Both shot 43 percent from the field and in the low 30's from the three-point line.
The edge, however, goes to Miami in this series even without home court advantage and despite going 0-3 against Chicago in the regular season. The Heat's two stars, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, have far more playoff experience than the 22-year-old Rose. They also have two stars to share the scoring load and pressure the defense in crunch time.
The front courts of these teams should negate each other which turns this series into a battle of Rose, Luol Deng, and the platoon of Bulls shooting guards against James, Wade and the platoon of Heat point guards. Advantage, Miami.
For the Bulls to win they will need to get a slight edge up front from Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson in their matchups and most importantly, Rose needs to keep the offense flowing and find ways to create open shots for his teammates. The key stat for Chicago is assists. If they are averaging over 25 per game they can win this series.
Prediction: Miami wins 4-3
Here's the schedule and TV info for the series.
Game 1: Sun., May 15 in Chicago, 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT on TNT
Game 2: Wed., May 18 in Chicago, 8:30 p.m. ET / 5:30 p.m. PT on TNT
Game 3: Sun., May 22 in Miami, 8:30 p.m. ET / 5:30 p.m. PT on TNT
Game 4: Tue., May 24 in Miami, 8:30 p.m. ET / 5:30 p.m. PT on TNT
Game 5: Thu., May 26 in Chicago, 8:30 p.m. ET / 5:30 p.m. PT on TNT
Game 6: Sat., May 28 in Miami, 8:30 p.m. ET / 5:30 p.m. PT on TNT
Game 7: Mon., May 30 in Chicago, 8:30 p.m. ET / 5:30 p.m. PT on TNT
Game 7 promises to be an all out war between these two physical and determined young teams. The game starts at 3:30 p.m. ET / 12:30 p.m. PT on Sunday on ABC.
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