Western Conference Finals: Position Breakdown

Thursday, May 26th 2011, 12:24 pm
By: News On 6

Originally Published: May 16, 2011 7:42 PM CDT

Game 1: Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Dallas Mavericks
Tuesday, May 17 at 8 p.m. CST
American Airlines Center, Dallas, TX
ESPN-Cox Channel 29, Cox HD-720, DirectTV-206
Thunder Radio Network-Sports Animal WWLS 640 AM 98.1 FM

Grant Belcher
Oklahoma Sports Staff Writer

There are plenty of questions surrounding the series between the Thunder and the Mavericks. Who will guard Dirk Nowitzki? How will the Mavs handle Kevin Durant? Which Russell Westbrook will show up?

Oklahoma Sports has broken down the series position-by-position so that you know what to expect when the two teams tip off the Western Conference Finals.

Point Guard: Though Russell Westbrook and Jason Kidd are the point guards for the Western Conference Finals teams, it won’t necessarily be a 1-on-1 matchup. Westbrook has had plenty of field days in the past when taking on older, slower point guards (think Derek Fisher in last year’s playoffs). And if the term “older, slower point guard” was in the dictionary, there would most likely be a picture of Jason Kidd next to it. Kidd is one of the league’s great all-time point guards, but there is no way he would be able to keep up with Westbrook if he were to defend him. Shooting guard DeShawn Stevenson will likely get the start against Westbrook. Meanwhile, Westbrook took a page out of Kidd’s book by registering a triple-double in Game 7. Kidd is third on the NBA’s all-time triple-doubles list, and it will be interesting to see what the 17-year veteran can pull off to try to keep up with the Thunder’s young All-Star.

Shooting Guard: The ironic thing about this position matchup between OKC and Dallas is that the real matchup here comes off the bench. Thabo Sefolosha and DeShawn Stevenson are the starters, but neither does much on the offensive end. They average a combined 7.6 points per game in this year’s playoffs. Stevenson will likely start off guarding Russell Westbrook, and Sefolosha could be all over the place for OKC depending on who is hot for the Mavs. Meanwhile, The two teams’ backups at shooting guard are averaging more than four times as many points combined as the starters. Jason Terry and his long-distance shooting have been crucial for the Mavs in the playoffs. To close out the Lakers in Dallas’ previous game, Terry dropped 32 points, including nine 3-pointers. Meanwhile, James Harden is also a key to Oklahoma City’s success. Harden has essentially been designated as the third scorer behind Durant and Westbrook, and is counted on as the go-to guy for the OKC bench. If Durant, Westbrook and Nowitzki all cancel each other out, look for this shooting guard matchup to be the key in the series.

Small Forward: This might be one of those series where each team’s superstar is essentially un-guardable. Mavs small forward Shawn Marion was an excellent defender back in the day, but might be nearing the end of his career before too long. Stevenson is the only other feasible defender for Durant, but neither should give him much of a problem. Durant also does not have to worry too much about guarding either of them, for neither is a true threat on offense and Thabo Sefolosha will also be bouncing around to whoever has the hot hand. Therefore, he can save his energy and put it all into scoring. Durant should average more than 30 points per game in the Western Conference Finals, and the Thunder will need all of them to take down Dallas.

Power Forward: Just like Durant having no real matchup issues in this series, the same applies to Dirk Nowitzki. Nowitzki is perhaps the most unguardable player in the league in quite some time. His outside shooting range and stroke are unrivaled for a player of his size and stature. In his 12th year in the NBA, Nowitzki is a 10-time All-Star and will go down as one of the more prolific scorers in league history. He has a repertoire of offensive moves, including a mid-range fadeaway that looks impossible until the ball finds the bottom of the net. Just like Kevin Durant, Nowitzki has also earned the respect of the NBA referees and will likely be getting the benefit of the doubt for a lot of calls. The Thunder will likely start Serge Ibaka on Nowitzki and see how it works out while also tossing Nick Collison on him at times. Kevin Durant could spend a small amount of time on Dirk in late-game and small-ball situations, while Thabo Sefolosha might also get a shot if nothing else working. Scott Brooks hopes the assortment of defenders will at least slow Nowitzki down.

Center: Dallas and Oklahoma City’s centers are quite the opposite in terms of playing style. Tyson Chandler stands 7-foot-1 and has been one of the most athletic centers in the league in recent years. His signature play is throwing down alley-oops that only he can reach, first from Chris Paul in New Orleans and now from Jason Kidd and Jose Juan Barea in Dallas. Kendrick Perkins comes in three inches shorter but weighs 45 pounds more and just recently proved he could dunk in the Game 7 win against Memphis. While Chandler is only averaging seven points in these playoffs, there could be times where both Collison and Ibaka are on the floor at the same time. Chandler loves to run the floor and Ibaka could keep up with him much better than Perkins could. Collison was huge in OKC’s closeout win against the Grizzlies, grabbing 12 boards while playing excellent defense on Zach Randolph.

Bench and Intangibles: A lot of people said coming into the playoffs that the only bench in the league better than Oklahoma City’s belonged to the Denver Nuggets, and the Thunder reserves won that battle. In the Memphis series, the OKC bench not only held down the fort when they came in the game, but sometimes even increased the lead or – if applicable – mounted a comeback. Nick Collison, James Harden, Eric Maynor and Nazr Mohammed have all come up big for Oklahoma City in the playoffs so far. Dallas’ bench is essentially all offense: Jason Terry, Peja Stojakovic and Jose Juan Barea. Those three help the Mavs offense not miss a beat on offense when they come into the game. But if Westbrook, Durant and potentially Harden are on the floor at the same time, that Dallas lineup will not be able to contain them. Dallas, however, does have the intangibles category locked up. The Mavericks have home court advantage, a week of rest and big time momentum from sweeping the defending champion Lakers in round two.

Related: Mavericks Preview Western Conference Finals