Czar’s Playoff Preview: Mavericks vs. Thunder Game 2

The Dallas Mavericks and Oklahoma City Thunder will square off tonight in the capital of the Sooner State in Game 2 of their first-round, best of seven series. The Thunder won the opening game 99-98 on a last-second, Kevin Durant foul line jumper reminiscent of his game winner in the first regular season match between these teams.

The reigning 3X NBA scoring champ and 2012 MVP candidate had 25 points, 6 boards, 4 dimes and 4 blocks in a game-high 44 minutes of court time. The West’s second seeded OKC squad is hoping to avenge last year’s WCF defeat, when the eventual NBA champs Dallas took out the up-and-coming Thunder team 4 games to 1.

14th-year, 11X All-Star and 2007 NBA MVP Dirk Nowitzki led the Mavs with 25 points in the loss. The uber-clutch Dirk had 11 of those points in the final five minutes of the game, nearly enough to push Dallas over the top and help them steal a road victory.

However, OKC coach Scott Brooks had enough of Dirk’s late game dominance and decided to run a double-team at him every time he touched the rock. This strategy proved successful, resulting in two key Dallas turnovers late in the game.

Copyright 2012 NBAE - Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty ImagesThese two sides met four times during the shortened regular season. OKC won the season series 3 games to 1 with their only defeat coming in ‘Big D’, 100-87, on January 2nd. The Mavs have endured a rollercoaster of a season with multiple losing streaks, a redone roster and an aging core. But as they demonstrated last season, to count out coach Rick Carlisle’s guys in the playoffs is a huge mistake.

The oldest player on the court, 18th-year, 39-year-old PG Jason Kidd, had 7 steals, 8 points, 6 boards and 5 dimes in Game 1. Dallas also has a solid bench anchored by Jason ‘JET’ Terry, who had 20 points and 5 dimes in the opener. However, the Thunder protect their home court vigilantly. They went 26-7 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena this season, while the Mavericks were a sub-par 13-20 on the road in 2011-12.

Dallas desperately wants to avoid going into an 0-2 hole in this series. Look for the 2011 NBA champions to come out swinging tonight, knowing that they didn’t play their best ball on Saturday and nearly won. Join Matt Devlin and me for TNT’s live coverage of DAL @ OKC Game 2 at 9:30 PM ET to see if the veteran Mavs can even the score or if the super-charged young guns of the Thunder are on a take-no-prisoners trajectory to their first NBA Finals.

Czar’s End of Year Awards

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Czar’s 2012 Playoff Preview

The 2012 NBA Playoffs start today, less than 48 hours after the conference standings were cemented during Thursday’s regular season finale. This lockout-shortened regular season schedule of 66 games in 124 days has taken a toll mentally or physically on all of the 16 postseason contenders vying for the championship this spring. How the fallout will impact postseason play is one of the various storylines that will color the playoff season, as will many memorable 94’ by 50’ hoops battles fought in years past. Like Shakespeare once wrote, “What’s past is prologue.” Here are some of the questions that will get answered as the plot unravels when the quest for the Larry O’Brien trophy gets underway.

THE EAST

  • Copyright NBAE 2011 - Photo by Victor Baldizon/NBAE via Getty ImagesVirtually all the pro-ball prognosticators have pegged either the Chicago Bulls or the Miami Heat to come out on top of the Eastern Conference. Do any of the squads seeded 3-8 have the talent, drive and stamina to make it to the Finals?
  •  Will the pressure on 9th-year, ringless LeBron James elevate his game (if that’s even possible) or be so great that he proves his naysayers right?
  • Does the depth and unselfishness of the 3rd seed Indiana Pacers make them spoilers even without a legitimate star on the roster?
  • Can Boston’s aged core of Pierce, Garnett and Allen stay healthy enough to grind out enough W’s to give the C’s their 18th title banner?
  • Will the banged-up Hawks get enough offensive output from the gifted Joe Johnson and their defensive menace Josh Smith to overcome Al Horford’s absence?
  • Can the Dwight Howard-less Magic rally together after a season-long soap opera surrounding the Association’s top 5-man?
  • Do the Knicks have enough firepower with the super-combo of Carmelo and Amar’e to take down their playoff rival of years past the Heat?
  • And will Linsanity be making a return to the floor and global media these playoffs?
  • Is this the year that the storied Philly franchise can return to prominence and shock the pundits?

THE WEST

  • Will last year’s champs Dallas be able to come close to replicating their 2011 title run from the 7-spot after having suffered through a roster redo, multiple prolonged losing streaks and aging superstars?
  • Will Gregg Popovich’s superb coaching job (maybe his best ever) of resting his trio of stars and developing a group of young ballers while still finishing with the 1-seed get the Spurs back to the Finals and a chance at a 5th ring?
  • Are the OKC Thunder poised to take the next step with the 3-time NBA scoring leader Durant, super-athlete Westbrook at the 1 and a strong supporting cast?
  • Will 5X champ Kobe Bryant’s MVP-like production in his 16th season be augmented enough by Gasol and Bynum to get to the ring round in Mike Brown’s first year as Lakers head coach?
  • Can the Grizzlies pseudo-shock the league as they did in last year’s first-round upset of SA now that they are a 4-seed, playoff-tested and expected to do well?
  • Will the Clippers be just the ‘CP3 & Blake Show’ or will the rest of the cast step it up now that they’re in the playoffs for the first time since ’06?
  • Can the post-Melo Nuggets make the mile-high fandom smile with their up-and-down attack, which ranked first in points per game and dimes per game?
  • Will the Jazz’s points-leader and boards-leader, power-power forward Al Jefferson be able to lead the 8th seed to an upset stunner now that he’s back in the playoffs for the first time since ’05, his rookie season in Boston?

Czar’s End of Year Awards

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Czar’s End of Year Awards

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