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NBA playoffs: Who’s the best in the West? Mavericks take on the Thunder

NBA playoffs: The Oklahoma City Thunder visit the Dallas Mavericks Tuesday night at the American Airlines Center. Game 1 of the NBA playoffs best-of-seven Western Conference finals starts at 9 p.m., Eastern time.

By Christopher HartmanContributor / May 17, 2011

Dallas Mavericks' Dirk Nowitzki shoots against the Los Angeles Lakers during the first half of Game 4 of a second-round NBA playoff basketball series, Sunday, May 8, in Dallas.

Tony Gutierrez/AP

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One of the main themes of this series featuring two NBA franchises located only a couple of hundred miles apart, is experience versus youth. The Dallas Mavericks’ average age is 30, and, as a team, have played a total of 119 seasons.

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The Oklahoma City Thunder, on the other hand, have only one veteran who’s played over ten seasons (Nazr Mohammed, with 12), and no one else who’s had over seven years in the NBA.

However, if you look at the way Dallas manhandled the Los Angeles Lakers in one of the most lopsided sweeps in recent NBA history – capped by a 36-point shellacking on May 8 – they are playing like anything but old-timers. In fact, they have a collective spring in their step that they haven’t shown in the playoffs for years

If it involved any team other than the Mavericks, it would be fair to say that an 8-day break in-between playoff games would be a detriment. But this team is playing at a level where it’s almost impossible that a layoff will affect them very much.

In fact, it may have actually helped by giving them more time to better scout the Thunder and learn how to play to and exploit their strengths. Oklahoma City’s keys to the perimeter game, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, will be kept very busy by Jason Terry and Jason Kidd. And expect Kidd to have his usual boatload of assists throughout the series.

Inside, the Thunder’s Kendrick Perkins versus the Mavericks’ Tyson Chandler will be an intriguing pairing – arguably the best face-off of big men in the entire playoffs. And with Dallas’ perennial lynchpin, power forward/center Dirk Nowitzki, continue to expect the usual offensive barrage both from beyond the arc and in the low post.

The Thunder, for all their youth and talent, have had difficulty closing out the big games in these playoffs, and their defense has at times been erratic. They just completed a highly-physical seven-game series against the Memphis Grizzlies in which they survived three overtimes to win over Memphis in their fourth game and blew a ten-point halftime lead to lose by 12 in game six.

Against quick-handed offensive and defensive threats Terry and Kidd, if the Thunder guards begin to pile up the turnovers and fouls in the paint begin to mount, the results for Oklahoma City could be deadly. This is where Dallas’ experience in the playoffs will prove invaluable.

To keep up, the Thunder will need solid performances by Russell Westbrook, whose shooting percentage has come under criticism during the playoffs; the always-steady Kevin Durant, and Oklahoma City must have strong offense off the bench by reserve guards James Harden and Daequan Cook.

Even so, the Dallas Mavericks, in their earlier playoff rounds against the Portland Trail Blazers and the defending NBA champion Lakers, have clearly demonstrated a level of experience, resiliency, and mental toughness that can defeat anyone in the league.

Oklahoma City, in its two years as an NBA franchise, has reached the playoffs twice – an admirable feat for a young team – but heading into this Western Conference final against a Dallas buzz saw will test them beyond their abilities.

In this environment, where a rested, versatile and veteran Dallas squad (with home-court advantage) faces a much more youthful and inconsistent Oklahoma City roster, the Mavericks will reap big dividends. Dallas wins in 6.

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