Oklahoma City Thunder's Durant hands the ball to Dallas Mavericks head coach Carlisle in the closing seconds of the second half of their NBA basketball game in Dallas

Western Conference Finals Preview: Mavericks vs. Thunder

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SEASON RECORDS
Mavericks: 57-25 (No. 3 seed in Western Conference)
Thunder: 55-27 (No. 4 seed)

SEASON SERIES
Dallas won the regular season series 2-1, but the most recent of the games was Jan. 6 — back before the Kendrick Perkins trade, and when Caron Butler was healthy. Nowitzki didn’t play in the Thunder win. So take these results with a grain or 12 of salt.

PLAYOFF SERIES
Mavericks: defeated the Portland 4-2, Los Angeles Lakers, 4-0
Oklahoma City: defeated Denver 4-1, Memphis 4-3

SERIES SCHEDULE (times Eastern)

Game 1 — Tue. May 17, at Dallas 9:00 PM
Game 2 – Thu. May 19 at Dallas 9:00PM
Game 3 – Sat. May 21 at Oklahoma City 9:00PM
Game 4 – Mon. May 23, at Oklahoma City 9:00PM
Game 5 * Wed. May 25 at Dallas 9:00PM
Game 6 * Fri. May 27 at Oklahoma City 9:00PM
Game 7 * Sun. May 29 at Dallas 9:00PM

All games on ESPN.

KEY INJURIES
Mavericks: Caron Butler likely will not play this series, even though they could really use him off the bench to check James Harden. He has been out with knee surgery since the middle of the season. Rodrigue Beaubois is technically healthy but don’t expect to see him.
Thunder: none

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKING (points per possession)
Mavericks: Offense 107.6 (8th in NBA); Defense 102.3 (7th in NBA)
Thunder: Offense 108.6 (4th in NBA); Defense 104 (13th in NBA)

THREE KEY MAVERICKS

Dirk Nowitzki. Arguably, the single best player in the playoffs so far — 26.5 points per game on 49.7 percent shooting and 60 percent from three. Now he’s going to see another team with long, and this time more athletic defenders to send at him. Serge Ibaka will get the starts, but don’t be shocked to see the more physical Nick Collison to get time as well. Dirk has to continue to put up huge numbers for Dallas to win this.

Tyson Chandler. Back at the trading deadline in 2009, the New Orleans Hornets had agreed to trade Chandler to the Oklahoma City Thunder, but the Thunder doctor said he thought the risk of the injury recurring to Chandler’s already troublesome big toe was too great, so the trade was rescinded. Turned out, the toe is just fine and he is tearing it up for Dallas. The Mavericks big men were able to limit the Lakers big men’s points in the paint, but Oklahoma City gets theirs a different way — slashing to the rim with Westbrook and Durant. Chandler has to protect the rim and make them shoot more jumpers because it can’t become a Thunder layup drill.

Jason Terry. He represents the entire Mavs bench here — J.J. Barea, Peja Stojakovic, Brendan Haywood, Corey Brewer. All through the season they have made huge contributions, and last series was no different (who can forget Barea carving up the Lakers defense. The Mavs are going to need some big games from their bench if they are going to move on.

THREE KEY THUNDER

Russell Westbrook. He took a lot of shots and took a lot of flack for taking a lot of shots last series. Even though it wasn’t all his fault (Durant was not working hard off the ball to get open at times, so Westbrook just took it on). In this series he should dominate Jason Kidd, who is not nearly quick enough to stay with him. He has to get into the lane but he has to pass if and when Tyson Chandler slides over to cut off his path. He has to make the smart play (like he did in Game 7 against Memphis) but it will often start with him disrupting the defense because he has the mismatch.

Kevin Durant. Of course he is key to whatever the Thunder do on offense regardless of the opponent, but in this series he needs to be more consistent than he was against the Grizzlies. He has one advantage in that the Mavericks have no real good matchup for him, during the regular season meetings Caron Butler got most of the time. Now, expect Shawn Marion, but it’s doubtful he can play the kind of ball-denial and physical defense that slows Durant.

James Harden. He really represents the Thunder bench — the Thunder need to win the battles of the bench in this series to win. They need to keep Jason Terry in check and Harden needs to put up big points. This bench matchup includes what ay be my favorite matchup of this series — Eric Maynor vs. J.J. Barea off the bench. But Harden remains the key, he has got to put up big numbers, big enough to offset what Terry and the Mavs put up.

OUTLOOK

Last series against the Lakers, the Mavericks executed about as well as they possibly could. They found the Lakers soft spots and exploited them every chance they got. Oklahoma City’s execution was far less consistent, from game to game, quarter to quarter, possession to possession. But it seemed to improve.

That is where you have to start looking for an edge here — if the Thunder do not execute better, they are in trouble. For Dallas, they need to stay at that level of efficiency and not take a step back when faced with a more athletic squad.

That starts for Dallas with not turning the ball over and controlling the tempo. Oklahoma City has the better athletes and Dallas will not be able to stop Westbrook and Durant in transition. Other than not to let them get going.

For the Thunder, they need to find a way to defend Durant successfully in this series. So what Thunder player spent the most time hounding Dirk Nowitzki in the regular season? Jeff Green, it turns out. He and the rest of the Celtics are now golfing (he went East in the Kendrick Perkins trade). Look for Serge Ibaka to get the first crack, but Dirk’s bevy of fakes could have the shot-blocking Ibaka in the air a lot. And fouling a lot. One other guy to watch for is Nick Collison, who had a fantastic Game 7 for the Thunder and is long and strong enough to keep Dirk out of the positions he wants to be in on the floor.

Like was said above, not going to take too much away from the three regular season meetings these teams had, but there is one thing to watch — can Dallas keep Oklahoma City off the free throw line? In the regular season the Thunder lived at the line, getting an average of 28.8 free throws per game. But in the three games against Dallas, that fell to 24. If Dallas can continue to defend without fouling that will be a big plus.

One other thing Dallas did during the regular season was defend the paint — Oklahoma City was 9-34 on shots in the key. Dallas has to continue to do that, Westbrook in particular needs to shift that balance and get into the lane and finish.

Dallas is going to negate some of what Kendrick Perkins and Collison can do inside because they are a jump shooting team (35 percent of their points these playoffs have come in paint, the lowest of any team in the playoffs). The Thunder have to contest everything because once the Mavericks shooters get going they cannot be stopped.

PREDICTION

Honestly, this may be the hardest prediction of the playoffs. I can see it going either way. My guess is, however, that this will become a jump shooting contest as both teams are good at protecting the paint. And in that instance favors Dallas. But it will be close.

Mavericks in 7.

Spurs fans decide to vote for Gregg Popovich in presidential election

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Gregg Popovich had plenty of strong opinions leading up to and after the 2016 Presidential Election. Perhaps he would have been a good choice for the White House himself?

That’s what 25 people in Bexar County — where San Antonio is located — thought when they cast their vote for the 67-year-old San Antonio Spurs coach.

According to the San Antonio Express-News, rather than cast their vote for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, some folks thought the Air Force Academy graduate would suit them better as the Leader of the Free World.
From MySA.com:

They wrote-in Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan, Jesus and Mickey Mouse, among others, to be president. A few cast their vote for a Popovich-Duncan ticket, but despite their efforts, Trump and Mike Pence were elected president and vice president.

The write-in records, obtained from the Bexar County Elections Department, show 5,226 people cast a vote for someone, or something, other than the two major party candidates— Clinton and Trump.

Popovich has been putting his money where his mouth is, both in his criticism of the current political climate and in his community outreach.

The Spurs coach recently held a town hall with Cornel West and local disadvantaged San Antonio youth.

Craig Sager to be inducted to Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame

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TNT’s legendary sideline reporter Craig Sager is widely held to be one of the best dudes working in professional sports, and this December he will be honored by his peers for his years of hard work. The Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame — an organization made up of members of almost every major American media company — will induct Sager to their ranks on Dec. 13.

While Sager is now known for his genial demeanor, wacky suits, and multiple unforunate bouts with cancer, he has been in the national public eye for more than two decades.
From the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame:

Sager’s presence has become synonymous with big-time NBA basketball (not to mention with unique style). As a sideline reporter for the NBA on TNT for nearly two decades, he has earned the respect of players, coaches, and viewers. He previously hosted Atlanta Hawks telecasts for TBS Superstation and was a reporter on TNT’s NFL pregame, halftime, and postgame from 1990 to ’97.

This is an excellent thing to happen to a generally excellent human being.

Congratulations to Sager.

Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle reveals hilarious strategy for unlimited timeouts

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Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle isn’t afraid to speak his mind or put his intelligence on display. The 2011 NBA Champion recently made comments amid a losing season that the NBA is better than digging ditches, where most of us would have to agree.

He’s also not afraid to game the game a little bit.

Via Twitter:

This feels like one of those moments where you realize that the answer to something simple is often right in front of you the entire time.

Carlisle is a basketball genius, and there’s nothing wrong if he’s technically playing within the rules — even if what he’s doing is asking for a penalty within those rules.

Don’t hate the player — or the coach — hate the game.

Wizards’ Tomas Satoransky says new role making adjustment to NBA hard

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 26:  Tomas Satoransky #31 of the Washington Wizards dribbles the ball against the San Antonio Spurs at Verizon Center on November 26, 2016 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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There was a lot of preseason buzz about Wizards rookie Tomas Satoransky — he’s 6’7″, long, athletic, he’s got handles, and he made some impressive plays in preseason.

His regular season has been a disappointment. He’s playing more than 16 minutes a night, but is shooting just 40 percent from the field, is scoring 3.8 points with 2.4 assists per game, and he has a PER at 8 that suggests he could use some D-League run.

Why is he having trouble adjusting? He spoke to gigantes.com and said a lot of it is learning a new position (translation via Sportando).

“I’m not playing as a point guard, I’m playing mainly as 2 or 3 and that’s difficult for me,” Satoransky said. ‘When you played your entire career as point guard, it’s difficult to adapt to a new role, especially because you have to play defense against bigger guys. I know I have to do better to play in these roles”

With John Wall and Trey Burke on the Wizards, there isn’t a lot of room for run at the point for Satoransky. He also is adjusting to the NBA game — a third of his possessions come as the pick-and-roll ball handler (a big role for an NBA point guard) and he is shooting 34.8 percent on those, although he is passing well out of those situations (with passes the Wizards average almost a point per possession when he comes off the pick, stats via Synergy Sports). Satoransky also is getting a fair amount of spot-up looks but is shooting  28.6 percent on those.

There are a lot of things going wrong with the Wizards’ bench units, Satoransky is part of that but at least he’s a guy the Wizards want to take their time and develop. Scott Brooks is still figuring out how to make all this work at the same time. Which means Satoransky may have a good NBA future ahead of him, but there is a lot of work to come first, and this rookie season is going to be rough.