The Western Conference Finals will be decided by the play of one man…Kevin Durant. The OKC superstar will have the advantage on whoever guards him and I think if the Thunder can realize this early, they will move onto the NBA Finals. No matter what, Dirk Nowitzki is going to get his for Dallas, but to match his play, the Thunder need to utilize Durant to the fullest.KD should be the focus early and often in order to open up things for Russell Westbrook and James Harden.
Here is a look at the Starting 5 and Bench comparisons for the upcoming series…
Point Guard: Russell Westbrook (OKC) vs. Jason Kidd (Dallas)
Westbrook will have some great opportunities against the older Jason Kidd, but he will not have his way. Westbrook struggled during the regular season against the Mavericks and we all need to remember J Kidd’s solid defense on Kobe in the last series. Kidd will be able to muscle up on Westbrook, but does lack the speed to fully cover when he goes to the hole. On the other end of the court, Jason Kidd will look to facilitate the offense and knock down some open jumpers. He has been shooting the three well this year, but will not look to be a scorer.
The Edge: Westbrook. It is a tough call as J Kidd is a gritty veteran who played extremely well against LA, but Westbrook will have the speed to get inside, but the question will be whether he can finish around the Dallas bigs.
Shooting Guard: Thabo Sefolosha vs. Deshawn Stevenson
Who cares? Neither of them play when it matters…
James Harden (OKC) vs. Jason Terry (Dallas)
These two guys play the 6th man role for both teams, but play more down the stretch than the starter. Harden has averaged around 12 ppg, 5 rpg, 4 apg during the playoffs and has played a key role for the Thunder off the bench. His perimeter shooting has been down, but the Arizona St. alum always has a chance at getting hot.
His opponent will be Jason Terry. The Dallas 6th man has averaged 18.2 ppg this postseason and exploded his last time out on the court. Terry lit the Lakers up in Game 4, putting up 32 points on 11-14 shooting (9-10 3pt FGs). Look for Terry to matchup with Westbrook for a large part of the series.
The Edge: Jason Terry. The 11-year NBA vet will look to get it done again. I think he will out-duel Harden, but I doubt he can repeat his performance from the Lakers series.
Small Forward: Kevin Durant (OKC) vs. Shawn Marion (Dallas)
Whatever he has in there, it’s working. Durant will abuse Marion. No contest here.
The Edge: The Durantula. He continues to make his case for my favorite player in the NBA…
Power Forward: Serge Ibaka (OKC) vs. Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas)
Dirk has been amazing this postseason. He is playing at a ridiculously high level and has had his way with everyone. The Thunder will start out with Ibaka on Dirk, which will most likely keep Dirk outside, but that doesn’t hurt the Mavs. Other options have been discussed as the Thunder plan on using Perkins, Mohammed, Durant, Collison and Harden on Dirk throughout the series. I think their best option is Nick Collison. He is athletic enough to stay with Dirk on the outside and tough enough to man-up with Dirk in the paint. No matter what, Dirk will get his, but it is all about making life as difficult as possible for the Big German.
The Edge: Dirk Nowitzki…Ibaka will get some good minutes filled with blocks and rebounds, but Nowitzki is an NBA superstar.
Center: Kendrick Perkins (OKC) vs. Tyson Chandler (Dallas)
These two guys are two of the most underrated big men in the league. They do the little things that keep a team winning. Their defensive presence and tough mindset will clog the lane and make it tough for both teams to go inside. Neither will score much, but the one that contributes the most on the stat-sheet will be a difference maker. Look for Chandler to finish some lobs and make finishing difficult for Westbrook, as Perkins bodies up Dirk and holds it down for the Thunder in the defensive paint, freeing up Ibaka to block shots…The Celtics must be kicking themselves for making that trade.
The Edge: Too tough to call, so it’s a wash. Both guys bring a lot to their teams and do not get enough credit for their team’s success.
The Bench: OKC vs. Dallas
Harden, Maynor, Collison, Mohammed vs. Peja, JJ Barea, Terry, Haywood.
Both bench squads are solid. I really like the size and strength that the Thunder can turn to to help tire out Dirk, while Harden and Maynor can bring some scoring. On the other side, Dallas gets some serious offensive help from Peja, Barea and Terry. All three guys can shoot the long-ball and Barea has an uncanny ability to drive and make plays at the rim for himself or teammates.
The Edge: Dallas…Their bench led them to a sweep of the Lakers and I expect them to spark the Mavs offense again this series as the Thunder will rely heavily on the scoring of Durant and Westbrook.
Prediction: Dallas might be the favorite here as they dominated the Lakers, but I’m going with the young-guns and picking the Thunder to win in 7. I think Durant will prove his NBA superstar status and lead his team to their first ever NBA Finals appearance. KD has to realize that this a truly unbelievable opportunity and I think he will take advantage of his mismatches and outscore Nowitzki when it matters most. This should be a high-octane, high-energy, highly-entertaining series. Make sure to check into ESPN tonight at 6pm to catch Game 1 in Dallas.