Czar’s Playoff Preview


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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.

Gameday Dish: Thunder vs. Lakers

The Oklahoma City Thunder (38-12) sit atop the Western Conference with 16 games to go in the regular season and lead the entire NBA in scoring per game at 103.7.  Tonight they venture to SoCal to take on the Los Angeles Lakers, leaders of the Pacific Division at 31-19 and a rugged 20-4 at Staples.

NBA scoring leader Kobe Bean Bryant (28.3) will be welcoming back longtime backcourt mate Derek Fisher. D-Fish, who was traded two weeks ago to the Houston Rockets and then bought out and signed by the ring-hungry Thunder, played 13 years for the Lake Show and helped them win five championships over that span. Look for the Hollywood crowd and ex-mates to give Fisher lots of audible love.

This evening’s 48 will be the second time these two sides have squared off this compacted season. On February 23rd in OKC, the Thunder brought some lightning in the form of MVP candidate Kevin Durant.  KD had 33 points on 12 of 22 shooting, and OKC won 100-85. Durant, the 2X NBA scoring champion, currently sits just below the Mamba at 27.8 ppg.

Coach Mike Brown’s crew played on Tuesday night at Golden State and prevailed 104-101. Kobe had 30, Pau Gasol pulled down 17 boards and C Andrew Bynum had a seat on the bench after jacking up an ill-advised,
bizarre 3-bomb. A few Laker players, including Bryant, have clashed with Brown in his first year at the helm of the team. Brown is in a tough spot taking over one of the league’s most scrutinized teams for the 11 X champ Phil Jackson.

The Thunder have the second best road team in the NBA with a 16-8 record away from the Sooner State. On Tuesday in Portland, PG Russell Westbrook brought the sizzle. The one-time UCLA Bruin and LA native went 16-26 for 32 points and dished out 8 dimes in OKC’s 109-95 victory. KD went 10-14 for 25 points in the game.

A ‘W’ tonight would mean a lot to both sides. The Lakers sit just 2 games above their intra-arena rivals the Clips for the division. And though the Thunder lead the West, they have the surging, deep, veteran Spurs on their heels, trailing the 1-seed by only 2.5 games.

As the usual entertainment stars from stage and screen align in their primo seats, the historical, milestone variety will cosmically line up too. Fifty years ago today, Laker HOF teammates Elgin Baylor and Jerry West became the first and only teammates to both score 40 or more points in a playoff game. Interestingly, the tandem of Durant and Westbrook has accomplished this feat twice just this season.

Tune in to TNT, Marv and me at 10:30 PM ET to watch these Western Conference stalwarts do battle.

Gameday Dish: Thunder at Magic

The NBA-best Oklahoma City Thunder (28-7) come to central Florida tonight to take on the Orlando Magic. Coach Scott Brooks’ guys arrive on a six-game winning streak and are virtually unbeatable at home at 15-1. On the road they’re tough as well at 13-6. Coach Stan Van Gundy’s squad is a strong 12-6 at The Amway Center and 23-13 overall. The Magic currently sit in second place in the Eastern Conference’s Southeast Division, five games behind the surging Miami Heat.

These two sides matched up on Christmas Day in their season-opening game in OKC. Three-time All-Star Kevin Durant scored 30 points, and the Thunder won 97-89. In the defeat, First Team All-NBA C Dwight Howard had 15 boards, but only 11 points. PF Ryan Anderson led the Magic with 25 points while shooting 6 of 12 from 3-point land.

Two-time league scoring champion Kevin Durant has averaged only 15.3 ppg in Orlando over four career visits – his worst mark against any of the league’s 29 other teams. However, in Sunday’s All-Star Game KD shot 14 for 25 and notched 36 points to lead the West’s best to a 152-149 win over the East and earn the game’s MVP trophy. Thunder PG Russell Westbrook also played well in the talent-filled contest, scoring 21 points on 10 for 17 from the field.

Both the Thunder and Magic are coming off hard-fought wins. OKC beat the Atlantic-Division leading Philadelphia 76’ers 92-88. With both KD and Westbrook having off-shooting nights, the Thunder had to rally in the fourth quarter for the ‘W’. Durant had 23 points on 7 for 18 shooting and Westbrook had 22 points on 7 for 20 from the field, though he pulled down an amazing 13 boards from his PG spot.

Orlando won in D.C. last night, topping the reeling Washington Wizards 102-95 for their sixth straight loss. The much-speculated-upon Dwight Howard had 14 points, 12 boards and 5 swats. But the star of the night for coach Van Gundy was 4th-year PF 6’10” Ryan Anderson, who scored 23 points and had 15 boards. On a night when big man Howard was the constant target of double teams, the perimeter guys stepped up and went 15 for 36 from triple-point territory.

Since moving from Seattle to OKC in 2008, the Thunder have beaten every other NBA team on the road except for the Magic. With a victory tonight, OKC will equal their season high of seven consecutive wins. While the Thunder display the great one-on-one abilities of Durant, Westbrook and Harden, the Magic will be hoisting up long shots. Look for an exciting, meaningful, effort-filled 48 when Marv Albert, Steve Kerr, Craig Sager and I bring you Oklahoma City vs. Orlando at 8:00 PM ET on TNT.