The Western Conference finals, which tip off Tuesday, should be filled with intrigue in a matchup of two dynamic teams, the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Dallas Mavericks.
Recharging their batteriesAfter tying the league playoff record for 3-pointers in a single game (20) and sweeping the two-time defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers, the Dallas Mavericks have had more than a week of rest. So much rest could be dangerous after building great momentum in a 122-86 Game 4 rout of the Lakers. But the Mavericks, whose top-five scorers average almost 34 years of age, may need the rest to keep up with a young Thunder team. In order to keep their mojo fresh, the Mavs have been running tough scrimmages complete with referees. After going seven games with the Memphis Grizzlies, the Thunder have just one day to recharge before taking on the Mavericks.
Establishing a legacy
By winning the scoring title in 2010, Kevin Durant, at 21, became the youngest such champion in NBA history. He repeated as champion this season. After surviving a dismal first season in Oklahoma City (23-59), he and the Thunder have advanced further into the playoffs each season, while inspiring a city new to the NBA. By signing a five-year contract extension last summer, Durant is building the foundation for a nice legacy. An impressive performance in the Western Conference finals would strengthen that foundation.
The experience cardBy going from 23 regular-season wins to 55 in two seasons, the Thunder have matured quickly, but still don't have the experience of the Dallas Mavericks. Oklahoma City's top four scorers are under the age of 23 and possess seven years combined of NBA experience. By contrast, Dirk Nowitzki has 12 years of experience. Jason Terry and Nowitzki are the only Mavericks left from the 2005-06 squad that lost to the Miami Heat in one of the biggest collapses in NBA Finals history. Will bitter taste from that moment motivate or cripple them? Meanwhile, being in the conference finals for the first time since moving to Oklahoma City could be advantageous for the Thunder. It has exceeded expectations and a win would be icing on the postseason cake.
Share the wealth
In a Game 4 loss to the Denver Nuggets, Russell Westbrook went 12 of 30 from the field and missed three 3-pointers in the final 30 seconds that could have erased Denver's lead. Durant was nearly perfect from 3-point range (5 of 6), which made Westbrook's shot selection look worse. The Twitter universe pontificated that there was a rift between Westbrook and Durant because a shouting match ensued during the game. Thunder head coach Scott Brooks says they weren't arguing over Westbrook's play, and Durant defended his teammate's shot selection. But in order for the Thunder to be successful, Westbrook shouldn't reveal his inner ball hog again.
The Boise State Broncos are not in season and your television isn't on the fritz; the sea of blue at Oklahoma City Arena and American Airlines Center is real. Both teams are encouraging fans in the stands to wear blue shirts to show team pride while simultaneously driving television viewers crazy.