Gameday Dish: Mavericks vs. Thunder

Copyright 2011 NBAE-Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty ImagesThe champion Dallas Mavericks head north tonight to take on the reigning 2x NBA scoring champ Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder. The young and exciting Sooner State squad is off to a strong 3-0 start in this compacted and compressed 2011-2012 NBA season. Scott Brooks’ roster remains in tact with nine returning players, so the Thunder will try to build on last year’s outstanding results and go one colossal step further to the NBA Finals.

On the other side, coach Rick Carlisle’s Mavs (0-2) are hoping to earn their first ‘W’ of this 66-game tilt after being blown out in both of their losses. On Christmas afternoon Dallas was handled easily by their 2011 Finals foes the Miami Heat soon after raising their first championship banner to the rafters in front of a boisterous crowd. And on Monday night, at home again, the Denver Nuggets destroyed them by a score of 115-93, and it wasn’t even that close. Heavy is the head that wears the crown?

The good news for the Mavs is that they won six of eight games against the Thunder last season, including four of five in the 2011 Western Conference Finals. In addition they were 4-0 in OKC, averaging a healthy 104.8 ppg.

The bad news is that this Dallas team looks and feels, in these early stages, quite different from the group that surprised a lot of seasoned hoops-heads and won their first title last June. The Mavericks lost six players from their history-making roster. Starting center Tyson Chandler and his 10.1 ppg, 9.4 rpg and, most importantly, his menacing defensive presence is gone via a sign-and-trade with the New York Knicks. Team sparkplug and pride of Northeastern University PG J.J. Barea left for the Timberwolves after they offered him more security with a four-year deal. Gone too are veterans Caron Butler and DeShawn Stevenson.

However, Mark Cuban’s band of ballers still boasts veteran holdovers 2011 Finals MVP, 10x NBA All-Star and scorer extraordinaire Dirk Nowitzki, 18th-year, 10x NBA All-Star ‘Mr. Forever Young’ PG Jason Kidd, “The Matrix” 6’7” wingman Shawn Marion and the JET – Jason Terry – the emotional heart of the team and former Sixth Man of the Year. The Mavs must quickly work to acclimate their new key players: 14th-year SG/SF Vince Carter, 13th-year forward Lamar Odom and 8th-year combo guard Delonte West.

Marv, Steve and I will be back in the booth tonight for another must-see NBA opening week matchup. Tune in to TNT at 8:00 PM ET to see if Dallas can right their ship and get back to playing the type of Mavericks basketball that won at least 50 games for 11 straight seasons and earned them the big ring last year.

Czar’s Finals Preview: Dallas Mavericks vs. Miami Heat

The Western Conference Champion Dallas Mavericks bring their collective talents to South Florida tonight to face off with the hot to trot Eastern Conference Champion Miami Heat in Game 1 of the 2011 NBA Finals.

Coach Erik Spoelstra and his team entered the postseason as the number two seed in the East and fought their way through the upstart Philadelphia 76ers, the time-tested Boston Celtics, and finally the team with the league’s best regular season record, the Chicago Bulls and MVP PG Derrick Rose. Team President Pat Riley’s Big 3 ballers finished off each of these talented opponents impressively, four games to one. Perhaps no win highlighted the combined super powers of James, Wade and Bosh better than their last, when the 2x MVP ‘L-Train’ spirited an unbelievable 18-3 run by the Heat in the fourth quarter of Game 4 to end the series and clinch the Eastern Conference Championship. The Heat are undefeated at home so far in these playoffs. And by virtue of the fact that they finished the regular season at 58-24, one game better than the Mavs, Miami owns home court in this winner takes all series.

Coach Rick Carlisle and his high scoring Dallas squad arrive at the title throwdown after besting the Portland Trailblazers in six, taking apart the 2010 Champion Los Angeles Lakers in a shocking four-game sweep, and handling NBA scoring leader Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder in five in the WCF. 13th-year 10x All-Star 7’0” F scoring machine Dirk Nowitzki is the Mavericks’ lone 2011 All-Star and their best player – maybe the best European player ever. Dirk’s coming off of a historic performance in OKC and is sure to be the focal point of Miami’s swarming and switching team defense, which finished second in the league in opponents FG% at .434. After the pride of Wurzburg, Germany, Dallas doesn’t have a definitive player who can put the ball in the hole consistently enough to take the scoring pressure off of Dirk ‘The Marksman.’ What the Mavs do have in bunches are veteran role-players extraordinaire such as 17th-year PG Jason Kidd, 12th-year combo guard Jason Terry, 12th-year combo forward Shawn Marion and 13th-year outside assassin Peja Stojakovic. Not one of this group of cagey vets has ever won a title, and they know that this series may represent their last, best hope for a chance at ‘IT.’

When King James, after his seventh season, announced on international television last July 8th that he had decided to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers and play alongside good friends and fellow 2003 NBA draftees 7× All-Star Wade and 6x All-Star Chris Bosh in Miami, he stated that he felt it was where he had the best chance to win a championship and even to win multiple times. The forum and style in which he chose to inform the world of his new hardwood address received vast amounts of criticism and spurred conversation and debate not usually associated with sports. And the attention and spotlight that had followed the best basketball player in the world since he was a high school phenom in Akron grew stronger and took on a villainous tinge. But now that the one-banner Miami Heat are back in the ‘Ring Series’ for the second time against their 2006 Finals opponent Dallas, James and the ‘Heatles’ will have a chance to get the figurative last word with regard to the ‘heat’, hate and scrutiny that the unorthodox formation of the 2010-2011 Biscayne Bay Ballers caused. For Dallas, Nowitzki and his Mavericks have earned the long-awaited opportunity to avenge their 2006 loss to the Finals MVP of that series D-Wade and his new Heat.

This is the time for true stars to shine, and we certainly have a number of them competing in this series. Who will be riding in a parade and sporting shiny, championship finger jewelry when the dust and sand settle? Game 1 of the 2011 NBA Finals tips off at 9:00 PM ET on ABC.