Oklahoma City and Dallas: By The Numbers
This post is part of our playoff preview series here at Hickory-High, complete with both statistical and video breakdowns. Check out the rest of the previews here
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Thunder – FTA/FGA - The Thunder are the favorites in this series, and rightly so, with advantages all over the court. For the Mavericks to have a chance in the series they will need to put forth a herculean effort in tripping up the efficiency of the Thunder offense. In the regular season the Thunder didn’t torch the Mavericks from the field, but absolutely overwhelmed them at the free throw line, attempting 124 free throws in 192 minutes. If you don’t have a calculator handy, that works out to a free throw attempt roughly every one and a half minutes of game time. If Kevin Durant, James Harden and Russell Westbrook fall in love with their jumpshots, and forget about getting to the line, they’ll be giving the Mavericks a tremendous gift in leveling the playing field. Get to the line, and this series should be a lot more successful than their experience against Dallas last year.
Mavericks – eFG% - The Mavericks defense is not the same force it was last season. Slowing down the Thunder is going to be an incredible challenge, and having a realistic chance in the series means they will have to make up a lot of ground with offensive execution. That’s a scary thought because new faces and a dearth of health, kept the offense from finding a natural rhythm for most of the regular season. The Mavericks ran a very balanced offense with no play type making up more than 14.1% of their total possessions. They may not be able to afford to chase balance and versatility at this point, but instead will need to focus on repeating what works, ad nauseam, until the defense adjusts. This could mean a steady diet of Dirk Nowitzki isolating on the elbow, or running pick-and-rolls with Rodrigue Beaubois and Delonte West. On the regular season their eFG% was 48.9%, and it dropped to just 46.3% against the Thunder. If they can’t push that number towards 50% things could get ugly in a hurry.
Players to Watch:
Thunder – Kevin Durant - Shawn Marion played terrific defense this season on all sorts of players, but didn’t do much to slow down Durant. KD played 125 minutes against Marion this season, with per 36 minute averages of 26.2 points, 7.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 9.9 free throw attempts, shooting 47.4% from the field and 40.0% on three-pointers. That’s a monumental improvement from last year’s playoffs when he shot 38.2% from the field and 15.0% on three-pointers, with Marion on the court. This was an MVP-caliber season from Durant, and he’s going to need to carry that excellence into the playoffs. This is the time when the rubber meets the road, and if the Thunder are going to live up to expectations, Durant should be the best player on the floor at almost every turn.
Mavericks – Delonte West - Some of the Mavericks’ best stretches of play this season, came with a healthy and productive West in the starting lineup. He gave the team several offensive weaponds this season – scoring in the pick-and-roll, o.84 points per possession, 49th in the league; on isolations 0.92 points per possession, 25th in the league; and spacing the floor as a spot-up shooter, 1.08 points per possession, 55th in the league. Both his scoring and passing will be crucial to the Mavericks’ ability to generate an efficient offensive attack. In addition, he’ll probably spend a fair amount of time defending Russell Westbrook and will need to keep him on the perimeter, shooting jumpshots. For the Mavs to have a chance, West will need to play well, every night.
Lineups to Watch:
Thunder – Russell Westbrook - James Harden – Kevin Durant – Serge Ibaka – Kendrick Perkins – This was the lineup the Thunder used most often against the Mavericks in the regular season, 57 out of 192 minutes, and it should be in the playoffs as well. Expect the Thunder to leave matchup manipulation to the Mavericks. As the favorite, I would imagine they’ll play straight-up, put their five best players on the floor together and challenge Dallas to beat them. Although this group wasn’t great defensively against the Mavs, they absolutely hummed at the other end, scoring 112.4 points per 100 possessions, and dominating the offensive glass with an ORB% of 39.6%. The Thunder will be looking to score and keep the Mavericks chasing their tails. This group will help force all that uncertainty onto the opponent.
Mavericks - Jason Kidd – Delonte West – Shawn Marion – Dirk Nowitzki – Brendan Haywood - This is likely the lineup the Mavericks will rely on to start the series as they start to look for chinks in the Thunder armor to exploit and adjustments they can make. The key here is the combination of West and Marion. Those two will be tasked with most of the defensive responsibility for Westbrook and Durant and will be on the floor quite a bit together. The good news for Dallas is that they seem up to the challenge. In the 35 minutes they were on the floor together against the Thunder in the regular season, they held Oklahoma City to just 27 points on 18-44 shooting, forcing 22 turnovers and giving up just 16 free throw attempts. The Mavericks need to chip away at the Thunder just enough defensively to give their offense a chance to win games. They will move pieces around the edges but expect West and Marion to be in the middle of their efforts.
Statistical support for this story from NBA.com