Posted by Andrew Shi
In a faceoff during the 2011 NBA Western Conference Finals, the Dallas Mavericks handily defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder in a 4-1 series. This year though, the Thunder leads the Western Conference, and in the last five encounters between the two teams ( albeit two of these games pre-season) the Thunder has taken wins in four of them. The question now is, can the Mavericks make a plausible claim for a repeat championship, or even emerge once again as the Western Conference champions?
The Mavericks have significantly reshaped their team, losing starting center Tyson Chandler, sharpshooter Peja Stojakovic, forwards Deshawn Stevenson and Caron Butler and inspirational point guard Jose Barea. In return they've picked up veteran All-Star Vince Carter, forward and sixth man of the 2011 year Lamar Odom and guard Delonte West.
Even with this newly revised team, and a rejuvenated Dirk Nowitzki, it is doubtful that they are any match for Oklahoma City. The Thunder have All-Star Kevin Durant who is currently second in the league for points per game and averaging over 8 rebounds per game. There is also All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook who is fifth in the league for points and eighth for steals. At power forward, Serge Ibaka is leading the league in blocks, and the Thunder also have former starting Celtics Kendrick Perkins at center, as well as guard James Harden who consistently adds 16 points a game.
Still The Mavericks have their own All-Stars including Nowitzki and Jason Kidd. Shawn Marion is a consistent and good forward and Jason Terry set records for threes in the 2011 playoffs.
A month ago the Mavericks were eighth in the Western Conference. After intense practices and Nowitzki taking time off to get back in shape, the Mavericks are in fourth today. The Thunder haven't faced the newly motivated Mavericks and when they play next Sunday it's not clear what will happen.
Since their last loss to the Thunder, the Mavericks have beat Denver, Portland, the LA Clippers, Philadelphia and Boston, all above .500 teams. The Thunder have done equally well, defeating Portland, Denver, Boston and the LA Lakers, but also losing to below .500 teams like the Sacramento Kings.
Still, when the two teams are statistically compared, it's difficult to determine which is the better team. This season the Thunder are averaging an outstanding 102.7 points per game compared to the Maverick's 94.4, but the Mavericks beat the Thunder in steals per game, 9.2 to 7.8, assists per game, 21.9 to 18.3 and turnovers per game 14.6 to16.8. The Mavericks triumph the Thunder in points allowed per game as well, 90.8 to the Thunder's 96.2, but are ranked 16th in points scored to the Thunder's third place rank. In terms of Sunday's game, a Maverick's win will boil down to whether or not the Mavericks can play better defense than the Thunder can play offense.
The record, as well as reason, indicates that the Thunder will at least emerge as the Western Conference champion in May, but it's too early to rule out the Mavericks —way too early. Sunday will be a good indicator of what will happen in the playoffs, but even if the Mavericks manage to beat out the Thunder, on Sunday and in May there are still the LA Clippers, San Antonio Spurs and, once Zach Randolph returns, the Memphis Grizzlies that are just as dangerous and plausible for taking the Western Conference.
So the answer — I'm happy that Nowitzki, Kidd and Terry got their long awaited championship rings, but I'm not expecting them to win Sunday or in May against the Thunder, and even if they did, I don't think anyone but a die-hard Dallas fan honestly believes they could once again beat the Heat.