Mavericks face Thunder in Western finals showdown

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.

Dallas Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki (L) of Germany celebrates a basket by a teammate against the Los Angeles Lakers during Game 4 of the NBA Western Conference semi-final basketball playoff in Dallas, Texas on May 8.

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.”

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