Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Western Conference Finals Preview + Predictions
The Western Conference Finals is finally here and what makes this year strange is that the Lakers aren't in the Western Conference Finals. In fact since 1980 only four years(1981,1990,1993,2006) prior to this year where a Western Conference Finals didn't have the Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs or Utah Jazz. What also makes this series unique is that this is only the third time since 1980 that a conference finals didn't have a #1 or #2 seed. The other two years were 1981 when the 6th seeded Houston Rockets defeated the 5th seeded Kansas City Kings. The other year was 1990 when the 3rd seeded Portland Trail Blazers defeated the 5th seeded Phoenix Suns. I should say the Blazers did have the second best record in the west and against the 2nd seeded Spurs in the second round the Blazers had homecourt. So this is the first time the two best teams in the conference haven't been in the conference finals since 1981 in either conference. That still doesn't mean this series won't be a good series as most people had both these teams high up on their list of teams heading into the season.
This series features a matchup of the veteran Dallas Mavericks who have a roster full of guys chasing their first championship. For the other side you have the Oklahoma City Zombie Sonics which feature the third youngest team in the NBA. The Zombies have two all NBA guys in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook plus a plethora of big men to throw at teams. The Mavericks will have that big game experience so it will come down to talent vs experience this series. Like I did with the Eastern Conference preview I'll give three keys for each team to win the series then I'll offer up a prediction. I'll start off with the Zombie Sonics(thanks Schultz!) who despite what morons on ESPN keep saying making their first conference finals.
Oklahoma City Zombie Sonics:
The city of Seattle right now should be buzzing with the Sonics instead due to idiots at high places we can only suffer. The Zombies feature a championship roster which has all the ingredients for a championship team. They feature a closer at the end of games and a top five player in the NBA in Kevin Durant. They feature a second star in Russell Westbrook which almost every champion needs. They feature good depth as seven guys give them 20 plus minutes a game this playoffs. They feature plenty of big men who they feel comfortable with. The only thing the Zombies don't have is experience but they are gaining experience from this postseason. Now I'll give my three keys they must do to win this series.
1. Give Kevin Durant the ball he's the best scorer in the NBA
Very rarely do you have a scorer like Kevin Durant if ever. There is no way to defend Durant as he can shoot over the smaller defenders or blow right by the bigger defenders. The problem this playoffs is at times like game four vs the Memphis Grizzlies where Durant went the final nine minutes of regulation without one shot attempt. Durant is a first team all-NBA performer as he averaged 27.7 points per game while shooting 46.2% from the field, 35% on three pointers making almost two a game and 88% from free throws on nine attempts a game. Durant is a scorer who can get to the rim or beat you on the outside. In the playoffs he has been even better averaging 28.9 points per game shooting 45.8% from the field, 38% on three pointers making 2.5 a game and 82.2% from free throws on 10 attempts a game. Durant is a dangerous player to go up against in a seven game series.
2. Zombie Sonics bigs must defend the three ball:
This will be a tough matchup for the Zombies as all four of their bigs in Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison and Nazr Mohammed are all bangers. The Lakers had that problem too as it became obvious pretty quickly that Andrew Bynum couldn't play that series. Well this series I don't know what the Zombies plan on doing to slow down Dirk Nowitzki but that will be a huge key. You can't stop Nowitzki but you also can't allow him to take over games especially in the fourth quarter like he has. I'm sure the Zombies will put the more athletic Ibaka on him as Ibaka is a great shotblocker as well. The Zombies don't really feature anyone who is capable of defending Nowitzki they might have to put Durant on him in late game situations.
3. Russell Westbrook must dominate the Mavericks point guards:
I just told you the Mavericks big advantage this series well the Zombies have a big advantage themselves in Westbrook. The Mavericks had the perfect storm to hide Jason Kidd the first two series. Kidd went up against Andre Miller then Steve Blake and Derek Fisher who Kidd is more athletic than. This series that won't be the case as Westbrook should be able to dominate that matchup and if he doesn't well this will be a short series. Westbrook was named second team all-nba behind MVP Derrick Rose as he scored 21.9 points per game, dished out 8.2 assists per game, grabbed 4.6 rebounds and had 1.9 steals. He also shot 44.2% from the field, 33% from three pointers and 84.2% from free throws. In the playoffs Westbrook has been criticized for shooting too much but he is a good player himself. These playoffs he's averaging 23.9 points per game, dishing out 7.0 assists a game and grabbing 5.6 rebounds. For the Zombies to have a chance Westbrook has to dominate the Jason Kidd matchup.
The team who is best known for choking in the playoffs has yet to lose a game since blowing a 24 point lead to the Blazers in round one. The Mavericks shocked everyone by not only beating the Lakers but they swept the Lakers. In game four the Mavericks hit 20-32(62.5%) from three point range. The Mavericks feature tons of players who have been close to winning a title from Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry who were on that 2006 Finals team who blew a 2-0 series lead over the Miami Heat. They also have Jason Kidd who lost back to back NBA finals in 2002 and 2003. They also have Peja Stojakovic who was on that Kings team in 2002 who lost the Western Finals in a game seven. The Mavericks also have Tyson Chandler who was on the 2008 New Orleans Hornets team who blew a 2-0 series lead over the Spurs in the second round. The Mavericks have Shawn Marion who lost back to back Western Conference Finals with the Suns in 2005 and 2006 as well. As you can see this is a hungry roster trying to erase those horrible memories. Now I'll give three keys for the Mavericks if they plan on winning this series.
1. Continue to make Nowitzki a matchup nightmare for opponents:
The Zombies like I discussed earlier have nobody who can even come close to matching up with Nowitzki. Nowitzki has been a force these playoffs averaging 26.5 points per game while grabbing 8.4 rebounds. He is shooting 49.7% from the field, 60.0% from three pointers on two attempts a game and 89.9% from the free throw line. In the fourth quarter Nowitzki has hit tough shot after another on the Blazers and Lakers. Nowitzki is still capable of bringing the ball inside and drawing fouls which is an automatic two points. Nowitzki will try to bring out one of the Zombies shot blocking duo of Perkins and most likely Ibaka. By doing that the Mavericks will have more room to penetrate the hole. This will be Nowitzki's third conference finals. The first one saw him get hurt as the Mavericks lost to the Spurs in six games in 2003. The second one saw Nowitzki drop 50 on the Suns in a critical game five as the Mavericks won in six games in 2006. Nowitzki like the rest of the roster is hungry to prove the doubters wrong.
2. Make it rain three pointers:
The Mavericks have been draining three pointers these playoffs especially against the Lakers. In the playoffs the Mavericks are averaging 9.5 three pointers a game on 41.9% shooting. The Mavericks have plenty of people who are capable of burning you on three pointers. We all know about Nowitzki but he isn't the only one. Jason Terry coming off a game where he hit 9-10 from three pointers these playoffs is hitting 2.2 a game for 50.0% from downtown. Stojakovic coming off a game where he hit 6-6 from three point range is making 2.4 a game for 46.2% from downtown. Jason Kidd had a huge Blazers series for the playoffs he's hitting 2.2 a game and DeShawn Stevenson is hitting a three pointer a game. The Mavericks stretch the floor so well and always have four guys on the court who can drill the three pointer on you. They also get to the rim so they don't live and die by the three pointer.
3. Mavericks bench to continue playing great:
The Mavericks bench led by Jason Terry has been outstanding these playoffs. In the game four win over the Lakers the bench scored 86 points which is incredible. The bench features Jason Terry who is averaging 18.3 points per game, Peja Stojakovic averaging 10.7 points per game and J.J. Barea who is averaging 7.7 points per game. Barea changed game two of the Lakers series with his constant penetration and kicking it out. While Terry and Stojakovic have given the Mavericks huge lifts in these playoffs. Both veterans are shooting great and give the Mavericks a very deep roster. The Mavericks have eight guys who average 17 plus minutes a game which shows you how deep this team is. The Mavericks other than Nowitzki have several key pieces that can come in and out. If the Mavericks continue this production from their bench look for them to win the title.
Prediction: Mavericks in Seven games
You think I was going to pick the team that was stolen from Seattle? Child please! Actually I think this series will be a great series that will go the distance. I think the Mavericks could even lose tonight due to rust as they haven't played in nine days. I'm picking the Mavericks because I think the Zombies are too young and a year away. The Mavericks are hungry plus feature a deep roster. The Mavericks also have a great closer in Nowitzki who the Zombies have nobody capable of guarding him. I do think the Zombies will give the Mavericks some problems too why I said seven games. This should be a great conference finals just wish this was in Seattle. Also remember the only owner who flat out voted no against the Sonics move was Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. At the end though Nowitzki will prove to be the difference in a critical game seven.