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The NBA’s Version of The Red River Rivalry

No, it won’t be 90,000+ crazed fans in burnt orange and crimson rushing to the venerable Cotton Bowl to watch the Horns and Sooners clash on the field, but the western conference finals promise to be entertaining.  For the first time ever, the NBA will take center stage in one of the most football obsessed parts of the country.

There definitely seems like a changing of the guard in the NBA.  The Thunder, Mavs, Heat, and Bulls have outlasted the Lakers, Celtics, and Spurs.  The Mavs have been a hallmark in the consistency in the regular season for over a decade, but save one finals loss in 2006 have been largely disappointing in the playoffs.  The Thunder made fans take notice when they took the Lakers to six games in the first round of the 2010 playoffs.

Kevin Durant would love to lead the Thunder to their first NBA Finals appearance in 15 years. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

When examining the tale of the tape between the Mavs and Thunder, it is youth versus experience.  OKC is one of the youngest teams in the league, while the Mavs run a bunch of players in their 30s.  The Mavs have the rest advantage.  Dallas made quick work of the Lakers and haven’t played in over a week.  OKC finally buried pesky Memphis Sunday in a seventh game.  Obviously, young teams with young legs bounce back faster, but there has to be a fatigue factor with the Thunder.

The Memphis defense deserves some of the credit, but Kevin Durant looked beat by game seven.  In fact both teams looked worn out.  It had been a knock down drag out fight for seven games, with two of the games going into overtime.  On the flip side you worry about the rust factor with Dallas.  They really weren’t challenged in the final two games against Los Angeles and haven’t played a game at NBA speed and intensity in over a week.  I wouldn’t be shocked if Dallas looks a little rusty in the first half of game one, but once they get back into the motions they should resemble the well oiled machine we saw against Dallas.

As for how the teams match up, they are both deep and can score in bunches.  As much as I would love to see a Dirk vs. KD matchup, I have a feeling OKC will put Serge Ibaka on the big German.  Dallas will counter with Shawn Marion on KD.  In that case advantage Oklahoma because Serge Ibaka is the kind of freakish athlete that has given Dirk trouble in the past.

Another key matchup will be at point guard.  If Dallas opens up with Jason Kidd on the explosive Russell Westbrook, Westbrook will feel he can get to the hole any time he wants.  We saw in the Memphis series that strategy doesn’t always work for Westbrook.  There were times when Westbrook blew past Mike Conley Jr. and somebody from Memphis would rotate over and Westbrook would get stuck with nowhere to go.  He often threw the ball away of forced up terrible shots.  I don’t know how much more patience Scott Brooks will have with Westbrook making bad decisions.

I think this series will come down to bench play.  If Dallas can get the kind of bench play they did against LA, then they will have a great chance to advance.  OKC’s bench play was much more helter skelter.  As great as they were in the four wins against Memphis, they were equally horrible in the four losses.

I understand a great Mavs/Thunder series will never replace an UT/OU thriller at the Cotton Bowl for some fans, but I am looking forward to sitting back, relaxing, and strapping it down for an exciting series.

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