Can Thunder Derail Dirk?


The Dallas Mavericks have won seven straight playoff games after rolling over the Oklahoma City Thunder 121-112 this past Tuesday Night in the opener of their best-of-seven Western Conference Championship series.

Dallas has used a simple but lethal offensive approach that nobody's been able to solve.

*Throw the ball to Dirk Nowitzki. If the other team tries to stop him with just one defender, they will fail. Repeatedly. All night long! If they get physical with him, he'll go to the free throw line and make 24 straight free throws. If they back off even an inch, the seven-footer with the golden touch will drain jumper after jumper. Should the opponent double-team him, then…

*Kick the ball out to an three-point shooter. If he's open, he'll shoot and probably score. We're talking about sharpshooters like Jason Terry and Peja Stojakovic here. And, even Jason Kidd has found his range in the playoffs (and a few other guys know how to drain open looks). If the defense rotates to the shooters…he'll just kick it to ANOTHER shooter…and so-on, until the defense is out of rotations.

Death by two-point field goals and free throws one way. Death by three-pointers the other. Portland looked a bit overmatched back in the first round But, it turned out they were defending MUCH better than everyone realized! The Lakers had no hope of covering the bases with a shorthanded lineup of slow big guys, some of whom were dealing with knee or ankle injuries. Oklahoma City was drained from a brutal seven-game series with Memphis. They didn't have the legs to go 48 strong minutes this past Tuesday Night. Give the Thunder credit for making things interesting in the fourth quarter with their own kamikaze runs at the basket.

It's very hard to see Oklahoma City 'outscoring' this approach with what is basically a 2.5 man attack (Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and the few good games James Harden is likely to have). That's too big a burden to place on a small number of guys. If the teams started out even in terms of rest and preparation, it's likely Oklahoma City would wear down over time. They didn't start out even. Oklahoma City started out tired!

But, it's important to remember that Oklahoma City doesn't have to play six great games. They only have to play four great games, three of which can come at home. They're only down 1-0 in the series. All they did was lose a game they were supposed to lose. There's time to come back. The right defensive adjustment TONIGHT could lead to a service break on the road that actually gives them home court advantage in the series. Even with all the potent firepower Dallas showed Tuesday (breaking 120 points in a low tempo game!), OKC was right there within striking distance with just a few minutes left.

Let's crunch the numbers and see what tonight's rematch might entail…

Dallas leads 1-0
Vegas Line: Dallas by 5.5, total of 199.5

The team side line hasn't moved at all, even with the natural tendency to bet the bounce back. That tells you how much respect Dallas has earned with its recent form. They're playing so well that it's very hard to bet against them. In fact, they haven't failed to cover a playoff game yet! The two straight up losses to Portland were a cover and a push. Dallas is either 10-0-1 so far against the spread, or 11-0 for Maverick backers who shopped around in their 5-point loss at Portland and got +5.5. Nobody wants to stand in the way of that steamroller!

The total has flown up five points from where it closed Tuesday. The teams soared past a 194.5 total with a 233 finish. We may see fewer free throws in this game since Joey Crawford won't be on the floor (we've talked about him in past seasons). But, it's not like the new refs will be able to swallow their whistles with the way these teams play. If 79 free throw attempts drops to 70, the game still goes Over. It will be interesting to monitor officiating, and defensive energy through the rest of this series. Dallas is performing at a level you don't normally see in the postseason. That will make totals handicapping very interesting.

Shooting Percentage: Oklahoma City 47%, Dallas 53%
Three-Pointers: Oklahoma City 7/16, Dallas 9/23
Free Throws: Oklahoma City 37/43, Dallas 34/36
Rebounds: Oklahoma City 35, Dallas 33
Turnovers: Oklahoma City 13, Dallas 12
Vegas Line: Dallas by 5.5, total of 194.5
Notebook: Oklahoma City has to be happy that they neutralized Dallas in so many areas. The Mavericks have been gaining big edges on three-pointers so far. Oklahoma City was only down six points from behind the arc, and they did that on seven fewer possessions. Oklahoma City actually won the free throw category even though Dallas seemingly spent the night at the line. Oklahoma City also won rebounding with tired legs. That could prove to be a big deal when the Mavs aren't so hot from the floor. Turnovers didn't matter much. All that's very good news for a Game One road loss.

The problem is obviously two-point defense and how to deal with Dirk Nowitzki. You can beat Dallas if he scores 30 or 35. Once he's into the 40's, you're in deep trouble. He almost scored 50 in a playoff game Tuesday Night! What is this, the ABA?

Dirk outscored Kevin Durant 48-40, almost matching exactly the final scoreboard finish in terms of margin. Should OKC try to win Durant vs. Dirk, then hope that Westbrook and his teammates can outscore all the Dallas weapons? That seems dicey? And, if the two stalwarts get tired, that probably favors Dallas too because of its depth. Oklahoma City, in shot order, has to come up with a creative defensive approach that knocks Dallas back on its heels. If that happens tonight, Oklahoma City can suddenly take command of the series heading back home. If there's no sign of it tonight, it's probably not going to happen. Pencil in Dallas for the NBA Finals in a couple of weeks then watch Miami-Chicago to see who they're going to play.

JIM HURLEY has been in close contact with his sources to determine Oklahoma City's approach and mindset. It's easy to get down in the dumps against this Dallas team. That hit the LA Lakers very early in the second round, and they never emotionally recovered. Remember that Dallas won Game Two at Los Angeles 93-81 at a +7.5 point line when everyone expected a Lakers bounce back. Dallas almost covered by 20 points! That could happen tonight if Oklahoma feels overwhelmed and overmatched. But, we like the fire we saw in the eyes of the Thunder in the fourth quarter. They were tired, but they weren't going anywhere. If this team catches a second wind at some point, it's Dallas that will be put in reactive mode.

NETWORK won big Tuesday Night with a selection on the Over in Game One of this series. We may well be on the total again here. If you win a Las Vegas bet by almost 40 points, it's worth considering going back to that well one more time! You can expect a major release. By the time you read this, it will be available for credit card purchase here at the website, along with Thursday baseball.

Remember to take care of business early today with five afternoon games in the bases. And, consider the profitable possibilities of combination packages. It's the perfect time to go that route. This weekend features:

*The NBA Playoffs continue Saturday and Sunday with Game Three's in both conference championship rounds.

*Interleague play starts in Major League Baseball, with a fantastic schedule of rivalry games and intriguing matchups that will have the sports world really buzzing about baseball for the first time this season.

*The PREAKNESS is set for Saturday at Pimlico, the second leg of horse racing's Triple Crown.

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This article is part of the VSM MASTERS SERIES presented by and For more information on JIM HURLEY'S handicapping packages, call 1-800-323-4453.


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