It starts with the big questions — if the Dallas Mavericks and Oklahoma City Thunder can’t answer those questions, the little ones will not matter.
That leads us to the big things to watch in Game 1 between the Thunder and Mavericks Tuesday night — can Dallas slow Kevin Durant, and can Oklahoma City slow Dirk Nowitzki.
The Thunder need to answer their question fast — Dallas is coming off a nine-day layoff following their sweep of the Lakers and they are bound to be rusty. They beat the Lakers with superior execution and that my take a while to come back. If the Thunder want to win one of the first two on the road, Game 1 sill be the best chance.
Serge Ibaka is going to get the first shot at Dirk, but he may be ill suited to stopping Nowitzki. We told you want to look for in more detail, but if we had to reduce it to two words, it would be Nick Collison.
On the other side, Shawn Marion is going to get Kevin Durant duty. The book on Durant has been to be physical with him and run him off his spots on the floor, to play heavy ball-denial and to limit his touches. We’ll see if Marion is up to that task.
One other matchup to watch closely is DeShawn Stevenson on Russell Westbrook. Game 7 against Memphis was Westbrook’s best game of the playoffs and if he displays that kind of balance again Dallas could struggle to stop him.
With those two guys to stop, expect to see Dallas use a fair amount of zone defense this series. The Mavs run maybe the best matchup zone in the league and that may be the best way to keep Tyson Chandler on the glass and in the paint to help on defense.
The two other keys for Dallas — don’t foul and don’t turn the ball over. Not fouling was something the Mavs did well, the Thunder got to the line 29 times a game during the regular season but that happened just 24 times against the Mavericks. That has to continue, the Thunder need free throws. They also want to get out and run, Oklahoma City is far more athletic. Dallas cannot fuel that with turnovers.
Lots of things to watch. But it all starts with the two best players on the court.