(Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)
Earl K. Sneed takes a look at the Dallas Mavericks' first-round playoff matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder and previews the rematch of last season's Western Conference finals series.
First Round Playoff Preview: (7) Mavericks vs. (2) Thunder
DALLAS — Separated by just the Red River and a simple drive on Interstate 35, the Dallas Mavericks and Oklahoma City Thunder would seem be the perfect rivals despite playing in different respective divisions in the Western Conference.
Playing each other a total of six times counting the preseason, there’s also not much that the two perennial powers don’t know about each other heading into their first-round playoff series after also squaring off last year in the conference finals.
Falling in both exhibition contests to the Thunder back in December, the Mavericks (36-20) would go on to drop the season series 3-1 after four hard-fought contests. Now, the Mavs will try to replicate last season’s playoff success as they begin defense of their first ever NBA title, after storming through the Thunder (47-19) in five games en route to the Finals and an eventual championship series victory over Miami.
“Well, they’re a great team,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said of his team’s first-round opponent. “They’re a great young team. We’re a veteran team. We know the kind of capabilities that they have as a team and we know what we have to do to play at our level. And so, it’s a great matchup. There’s geographic interest, because the two teams are close together, and we had a really intense series with them last year. So, it’s a tough matchup, but we’re looking forward to it.”
“It’s time to play basketball and we’re ready,” sixth man Jason Terry added. “This is what you play for, to win another championship. Obviously, it starts with Game 1 … in a tough environment. Oklahoma is a tough place to play, but we match up very well with them. They’re playing very well, so it’s gonna be tough, but I think we’re up to the task.”
After falling to a 104-102 road loss on Dec. 29 thanks to three-time scoring champion Kevin Durant’s game-winning three, the Mavs again tasted defeat in Chesapeake Energy Arena with a 95-91 loss on March 5. Now, after going just 13-20 on the road during the regular season, the Mavericks will try to change their fortune in the Thunder’s hostile backyard, beginning the series with two games in Oklahoma City before returning to Dallas.
“We were both right there,” leading scorer Dirk Nowitzki said of the two road defeats. “The one I think we lost at home (95-86 on Feb. 1), we weren’t very good. I came just back from my week off and I was brutal. So, we’ll see. … They’re a very, very good team. They’re young and athletic, they’re talented and they’ve got a great home crowd. I mean, that’s a fun building to play in. It gets as loud as any building in this league. So, we’ve gotta hang in there.”
Taking the court with a well-rested Jason Kidd manning the controls after sitting out the team’s final two games, in addition to receiving four days of rest in between the matchups, the defending champions head into the highly-anticipated series with plenty of confidence. And with the 39-year-old point guard leading the way, the Mavs will again try to eliminate their neighbors to the north in what’s expected to be another epic seven-game series.
Meanwhile, the Mavs will try to keep Durant and his two lead henchmen, All-Star lead guard Russell Westbrook and Sixth Man of the Year frontrunner James Harden, under wraps in order to keep the OKC faithful quiet, hoping to draw off their experience advantage in order to neutralize the Thunder’s athleticism and advance to the second round.
“Well, they’re a talented team,” Kidd said with a healthy respect for the Thunder like his teammates and coach before him. “They’re young, they’re exciting … and they can score the ball. So, we’ve got our hands full. And it’s gonna take a team effort to find a way to get a win up there. The dress rehearsal is over and now this is for us to protect our crown with what we did last year and see if we can get another one.”
“Yeah, I think we have an older team, an experienced team. With J-Kidd running the show, I don’t think it gets more experienced than that,” Nowitzki added. “You know, JET [Terry] and myself, we’ve been through a lot together. And we’ve got some new guys, obviously, that’s been through a lot of stuff. … We’re gonna play hard and hopefully share the ball. I think that’s when we’re at out best; when we get stops, speed the game up some, find the open guy, play together and I think we’re gonna be a tough team to beat.”
The Mavs-Thunder first-round series schedule is as follows:
Game 1: Mavericks at Thunder; Saturday April 28 at 8:30 p.m. CT on ESPN/TXA 21
Game 2: Mavericks at Thunder; Monday April 30 at 8:30 p.m. CT on TNT/TXA 21
Game 3: Thunder at Mavericks; Thursday May 3 at 8:30 p.m. CT on TNT/TXA 21
Game 4: Thunder at Mavericks; Saturday May 5 at 6:30 p.m. CT on TNT/TXA 21
Game 5: Mavericks at Thunder; Monday May 7 TBA
Game 6: Thunder at Mavericks; Thursday May 10 TBA
Game 7: Mavericks at Thunder; Saturday May 12 TBA