Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Dallas Mavericks
When: Series began on April 16, could run until April 30
Where to watch: ESPN, TNT
Player to watch: Russell Westbrook, half-man, half-alien-basketball-machine, is going to be the biggest factor for the Thunder postseason. Westbrook himself is a basketball enigma. At times, he is unbelievably brilliant, dominating all facets of the game while blazing around the court like he downed 17 shots of espresso before tip-off. At other times, though, he is unbelievably frustrating, going for horrible steal attempts that lead to easy points for opponents and jacking up shots four seconds into the shot clock for no reason at all. He’s easily the most entertaining player to watch in the league not named Steph Curry, but Westbrook needs to be more than entertaining if the Thunder want to make some noise this postseason. Thunder forward Kevin Durant will likely play very well, and if Westbrook can control the game while playing like a maniac, like he has shown he can do, without turning into an actual, bonafide maniac then the Thunder could make some serious noise. Regardless, he should have a field day against the Dallas Mavericks because they simply have no one on their roster that will be able to stay in front of him while guarding him.
Prediction: The Thunder and Mavericks aren’t new to each other. This matchup will be the third postseason encounter for the two teams since the Thunder’s first appearance in the playoffs back in 2010. Ultimately, this Mavericks team is very different from previous teams that OKC has matched up against. Mark Cuban, owner of the Mavericks, has assembled a team of castaways and misfits around star forward Dirk Nowitzki, who has regressed as he’s gotten older. From guards like Raymond Felton and Deron Williams to big man Zaza Pachulia who they literally picked up for absolutely nothing, the entire roster is just full of these guys who no one else wanted. It’s actually pretty endearing and it’s a testament to Mavs coach Rick Carlisle that they even made it to the playoffs. Regardless, Carlisle’s coaching should make this series relatively competitive, and he’ll make it difficult for Westbrook and Durant, at times. However, OKC’s talent and athleticism, as well as a tremendous advantage in rebounding, is too much to overcome for the Mavs. I’m taking the Thunder in 5 games.