Western Conference Finals Preview

Note: Heat over Bulls (6 games) to win the East, as I’ve been writing, so no need for further explanation!*

The Thunder

The Mavericks’ march for revenge for the 2006 Finals goes through the Oklahoma City–a throwdown which will provide the perfect preview of what they’ll face should they advance. Oklahoma City’s offense at times resembles that of the Heat, in several ways:

Scorer with the ball in his hands.

Though Russel Westbrook is a point guard and Dwyane Wade a shooting guard, their biggest weapon is the explosive assault on the rim. Both players scored over 25% of their points from the foul line this year.

Mismatch on the wing.

The mismatches caused by a 6’10” sniper and a 6’9″, 275-pound sprinter are pretty obvious, which is why Durant and LeBron have gone 1-2 in PPG the past two years. Tall defender? Run by them. Small defender? Shoot over them or run them over.

1-on-1 malaise.

All too often, the Heat and the Thunder stand around and watch their stars do their thing, when instead the specific talents they’ve taken to South Beach can be used for beautiful basketball like below.

As Pat wrote Westbrook loves to jack them up. Sometimes Durant seems perfectly content to just stand there and watch him do it. Just as the Heat break down into “taking turns” the Thunder fall into inefficient 1-on-1 games. Sometimes you have to wonder if that’s in the playbook.

The best way to utilize two scorers?

The Thunder and Heat can survive these inefficient forays into oneupmanship because their scorers are so good that it works. Sometimes the 1-on-1 game leads to strikes into the paint instead of jumpers, which isn’t a bad trade at all.

Superstar Pick and Roll.

When a role player comes out and sets the pick and roll, teams know to show on the ball-handler and let the help defense take care of the lesser threat.

When Kevin Durant and Russel Westbrook run the screen and roll, you don’t know if you’re going to get dunked on or have a three dropped on you. Here, Memphis found out about option #1:

Easy points.

Every time you fail to box out they can run out. Every time you cheat up they can get the alley-oop back door. And in games where theirs shots aren’t falling–or the whistles are blowing–they can get themselves to the line again and again for easy points.

So what about the Mavericks?

They spread the floor with shooters and let Dirk draw attention and Kidd run the point. Sebastian Pruti at NBA Playbook has a beautiful breakdown of the famous 20 treys they threw in game 4. His conclusion: “When looking at Dallas’ three point shots, the common thread is Dirk Nowitzki.” For instance, on this play he gets the hockey assist.

(Also from NBA Playbook: Why the Mavs sometimes run in circles)

The Verdict

The Thunder struggled to take down an 8 seed. I’m going to go with Mavericks in 5.

Play design adapted from my application to be coach of the Knicks after they fire Mike D’Antoni. Background of play diagram (c) SportsDiagrams.com. Stats via basketball-reference.com


.*You won’t hear my bragging about my prior picks in the west…

Matt Rogers - Bio coming soon.

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