NEW YORK, (Reuters) – A young Oklahoma City team take on the wily Texas sharp-shooters of Dallas in a Western showdown between the Mavericks and Thunder starting today with the survivor heading on to the NBA Finals.
Dirk Nowitzki, the deadly accurate shooter for the Dallas Mavericks, will be pitted against the league’s 22-year-old scoring champion Kevin Durant in a best-of-seven series for the Western Conference crown.
Dallas, 57-25 in the regular season, won two out of three from Oklahoma City (55-27) during the campaign, but the slate is clean in the playoffs with both sides hungering for a chance to play for the league title.
The Mavericks, who lost the 2006 NBA Finals to the Miami Heat and flopped out of every post-season since, are gunning for their maiden championship in their 31st season.
The Thunder, who relocated to Oklahoma City for in 2008, are in the conference final for the franchise’s first time since losing the 1996 NBA Finals as the Seattle SuperSonics.
The 32-year-old Nowitzki and his crew of over-30 hardwood partners are coming off a sweep of the twice defending champion Los Angeles Lakers and will have had nine days of rest when they host the Thunder in the series opener.
The layoff raises the benefits of rest versus the rust from a lengthy absence, yet Nowitzki, 38-year-old evergreen point guard Jason Kidd, 33-year-old scoring guard Jason Terry and 33-year-old three-point specialist Peja Stojakovic of Croatia may need all the energy they can muster against Oklahoma City. Nowitzki, a 7-foot (2.13 m), 10-times All-Star and 2007 NBA Most Valuable Player, has been brilliant in the postseason.
The German forward has averaged 26.5 points on 49.7 percent shooting in a Dallas offense that spreads the floor and shares the ball with selfless passing.
Oklahoma City needed seven games to muzzle the Memphis Grizzlies but youth is on their side to bounce back.
“We are not done yet,” Thunder sixth man James Harden said after Sunday’s Game Seven win. “We still have more games to play.”
Two-time scoring champion Durant’s sidekick in the Thunder attack is fellow 22-year-old point guard Russell Westbrook, who can score as well as distribute.
Dubbed ‘Durantula’ for his ability to turn into a scoring monster in the open court once the Thunder get rolling on the fast break, the lanky forward scored 39 points in the clincher against Memphis and has averaged 28.9 points in the playoffs, with Westbrook adding 23.9.
The young, athletic Thunder are expected to focus on defending against the three-point shooting by the Mavs, who shot a mind-boggling 20-of-32 from long distance in finishing off the Lakers.
“They have so many shooters,” Harden said. “We’ve got to make them put it on the floor.”
Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle knows it will be a fresh test against Oklahoma City, which is allowing 33.9 percent shooting from the three-point line.
“(Oklahoma City) will contest everything,” Carlisle said. “Nothing will come easy.”