DONUT 1: In terms of matchups, here's the toughest grouping of questions to answer until the ball is tossed up tonight at 8: Who covers Westbrook? Does the regular-season success against him translate? Is he ready to lead? How much does BBIQ matter?
Though the Mavs held Russell Westbrook relatively in check this season -- 14.3 points per game on 31.8-percent shooting to go with 8.7 assists -- he represents the brand of guard that can give Dallas, and Jason Kidd, fits. He is extremely quick, supremely athletic and comes with the ability to finish strong at the rim.
Despite his ample strengths, we've seen criticism creep in this postseason, as Westbrook did not appear ready to lead a championship team with his decision making at times in critical late-game situations against the Memphis Grizzlies. He forced bad shots, seemed to abandon the offense and failed to get the ball to one of the games best scorers, Kevin Durant.
Currently at the other end of the clutch-BBIQ spectrum, Kidd is blessed with one of the purest minds in the game, frequently able to set aside the weight of the moment to orchestrate his team's attack with deadly precision. He no longer has the physical tools to compete with Westbrook, but if he can capitalize on the one area he should hold a significant advantage, he may be able to neutralize one of the Thunder's most significant weapons … to some degree.
Our thoughts, after having visited with the Mavs coaching staff on this: It's likely that Dallas will try to keep Kidd from having to defend Westbrook for extended periods in the hopes of saving his legs, but even if they rarely directly matchup, their overall play, particularly in the closing moments of games, will play an immense role on the outcome.
So Kidd for the last, say, five minutes? Great. DeShawn to begin both halves on him? Fine. There's a few more minutes eaten up. That only leaves maybe 30 to 35 other minutes of questions to get answered.
DONUT 2: We've said it a skillion times: Durant is The Next Dirk.
How complete will the metamorphosis be within the next two weeks?
The days of Dallas shutting down Kevin Durant appear to be in the rearview. True, the 20.2 points Durant averages for his career against Dallas is less than against any other team, but that number has leapt to 29.2 per game this season.
Meanwhile, The UberMan only played a little over five quarters against the Thunder this season, but he had his way in that time, shooting 61.9 percent.
When it comes down to it, Dallas has to feel better about Marion and possibly a small sample of DeShawn (and Brewer?) on Durant than OKC can feel with anyone they can throw at Dirk (Collison backing Serge?), but both players will likely get their points.
One other possible advantage could come in the fact that Nowitzki will have the learned hand of Kidd providing him with key passes down the stretch, while Durant will be dependant upon Westbrook.
Like LaMarcus Aldridge before him, KD is a favorite son (OK, nephew) of many Mavs followers. There's not much about him that's unlikeable. And like LA, he is a worthy heir to Dirk's throne as the NBA's Most Humble Superstar.
But not yet, OK? Not yet.
DONUT 3: The Dallas Mavericks have bucked conventional wisdom in these playoffs regarding the importance of the bench. Rick Carlisle promises this all the way back in training camp, remember?
"Be Ready.'' And, "It's not about role definition, it's about role acceptance.''
So while so many other clubs tighten up the rotation in the postseason, narrowing the totem pole down to eight heads ... Rick keeps preaching "Be Ready'' to a dozen guys.
And maybe Dallas wins this thing with its bench.
Brendan Haywood, Peja Stojakovic, Jason Terry and the now famed Lakers-killer JJ Barea have played a major part in the Mavericks success this postseason.
Terry has bounced back from a few less-than-spectacular playoff performances to reassert himself by averaging 18.3 points on a 52.4 field-goal percentage, including an impressive 50-percent behind the arc, and a playoff PER of 23.8, second on the Mavs to only Dirk Nowitzki's 26.1 (of players getting heavy minutes).
It'll be grand if Jet fulfills his own wish to "outperform their entire bench ... that's what I do.'' But it's likely more complicated than that.
Haywood has combined with Chandler to form a formidable defensive duo for Dallas at the center position. Peja didn't exactly play poorly against the Blazers in the first round; note the fact that he did hit 41.9 percent of his 3-point shots, but took a noticeable step forward against the Lakers, hitting 51.4 percent from the floor and 52.4 percent from deep.
We go 1-on-1 Video Visit with Big Wood to talk about his work so far (and his Fantasy Football ...)
The biggest question may be if JJ Barea can come close to duplicating his performance against the Lakers, where he tore through the defense at will, creating space for teammates or finishing effortlessly at the rim … well, when The Cowardly Bynum was throwing a cheap elbow into his ribs, anyway.
Los Angeles could not match his quickness or speed, but Westbrook and Eric Maynor are not Derek Fisher and Steve Blake. OKC will bring a much higher level of athleticism almost across the board. Barea may find a higher degree of difficulty in finding lanes for penetration. How he adjusts will be something to look for.
Led by James Harden and Nick Collison, the Thunder's bench averaged 35.9 points per game against the Grizzlies. Dallas got an incredible 49.5 from their bench against the Lakers. How these units compete against each other will go a long way towards determining the victor in this series.
And by the way: For what it's worth, Brewer closed Monday's practice wearing the red jersey representing the third team ... while wearing the second-team blue jersey was Roddy B.
So ... "Be Ready?''
DONUT 4: The respective acqusitions didn't merit the same level of attention at the time. But is it possible that just as Kendrick Perkins provides OKC with a remodeled interior, Peja Stojakovic gives Dallas' an equally important paint job on the outside?
Maybe Perkins helps provide an answer for Tyson Chandler, who had a pair of monster games for Dallas against OKC this year: 17 points and 18 rebounds (including seven offensive boards) in the first meeting and 14 points and 18 rebounds in the third.
Does the Perkins Scowl corral some of that?
Meanwhile, we know that Dallas' perimeter game is going to have to be part of the puzzle here. And we know that Jason Terry and Jason Kidd both struggled to find their shots vs. OKC during the three meetings. Terry was 9-of-28 (32 percent) for 23 points in the first two games before bouncing back for 19 points on 9-of-16 shots in the third and final contest, when Dallas leaned on his offensive abilities with both Dirk and Caron out.
Kidd faired much worse, hitting only 23-percent of his attempts, including 4-of-20 behind the arc (20 percent), though his best performance (4-of-11 field goals and 2-of-7 from deep) came in the only contest that arrived with more than a single day of rest.
However, the presence of Peja, and the space he provides teammates as defenses are forced to respect the threat he represents from behind the three-point line, should help create better looks for Terry and Kidd in this series.
In that sense -- though this might be an uncommon way of looking at it -- the Perkins addition might be offset by the Peja Presence.
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DONUT 6: Tonight's refereeing trio is ... Joe Crawford, Bill Kennedy and Zach Zarba.
Welcome to Big D, my dear, dear friends.
DONUT 7: DB.com has TV duties throughout the series, not only as Fish co-hosts the postgame shows after road games on FS Southwest, but also as Fish joins Dale Hansen for Channel 8's special preview show live at the AAC beginning at 6:30 p.m.!
Yes, Dale. We are ready for our closeups.
DONUT 8: Oklahoma City leads the playoffs in team scoring at 102.8 points per game. The Dallas defense ranks second overall, and first of the teams remaining, in points allowed this postseason at 88.2.
Is that our Strength-against-Strength theme?
The Mavericks stand as the fourth highest scoring team with 96.9 per game, while the Thunder sit at 15th of the possible 16 teams in points allowed per game at 99.5.
Aha! Maybe there's the chink in the armor!
On paper, these are numbers that heavily favor Dallas, but anymore, who reads the paper? (Joke.) Seriously, the Spurs and the Lakers, who entered the postseason as the top two seeds in the Western Conference, can attest to the fact that these things don't go according to anybody's predetermined rulebook. Except sometimes Danny Crawford's. (Joke!)
DONUT 9: Oklahoma City gave us cracks to dig into by forfeiting large leads to the Grizzlies and often appearing out of synch or sloppy in crunch-time.
Dallas, meanwhile, has forged a rep as a crunch-time master of execution. Carlisle calling plays for Kidd to run for Dirk is the centerpiece of that.
The Thunder will be the superiorly gifted athletic team, but have they built the mental wealth, the knowledge to fall back on, to defeat a Dallas team that has discarded tired questions of their own mental fortitude to show precise execution in the most crucial of moments?
DONUT 10: Speaking of Kidd: No, he's not retiring. We appreciate him hanging with DB.com to clear this up.
DONUT 11: They're probably playing the best basketball in the playoffs," OKC coach Scott Brooks said of the Mavs. "When you beat the Los Angeles Lakers 4-0, you have to be considered the favorite."
Brooks is probably trying to play a little mind game there. And it's premature to consider Dallas vs. Chicago or Miami.
But Dallas vs. OKC? Yes. Brooks is right. Dallas has to be considered the favorite.
DONUT 12: Per our man Mark Followill, teams with eight or more days of rest have gone 11-7 in the following series, though only 9-9 in the first game.
Tonight's series open will mark the ninth day since Dallas swept the Lakers. While it's hard to discount how the rest may have helped revive some "old" legs, noting the fact that Jason Kidd is 38 and seven of the Mavs nine primary rotation players are at least 30 years old, such an extended layoff is sure to bring about a certain level of rust.
The Thunder have played every other night beginning with Game 3 against the Grizzlies, making Tuesday's Game 1 their sixth game in 11 nights, but they will take the court with the emotional lift of emerging victorious from a tough seven-game series and entering the Western Conference Finals.
The team who shows a greater ability to overcome their circumstances entering Game 1 may forge an important early-series advantage.
While you wait for the tipoff, let's get DB.com videographer Kevin Brolan down on the floor for a sights-and-sounds tease ...
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