Dallas Mavericks Playoffs Schedule 2012: Odds, Predictions for 1st Round Series

Bradlee Ross@rossbeCorrespondent IIApril 27, 2012

Dallas Mavericks Playoffs Schedule 2012: Odds, Predictions for 1st Round Series

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    As the reigning NBA champions, the Dallas Mavericks have shown that they have what it takes to win it all. But will they do it this season?

    Key subtractions could hurt this squad, including the losses of J.J. Barea, Tyson Chandler and Caron Butler. The remaining group will need to step up around superstar Dirk Nowitzki if last year's magical run is to be repeated.

    Here's everything you need to know about the Mavericks and their first round series.

    First, the schedule:

    Game 1 - Sat April 28, Dallas at Oklahoma City, 9:30 p.m., ESPN
    Game 2 - Mon April 30, Dallas at Oklahoma City, 9:30 p.m., TNT
    Game 3 - Thu May 3, Oklahoma City at Dallas, 9:30 p.m., TNT
    Game 4 - Sat May 5, Oklahoma City at Dallas, 7:30 p.m., TNT/R
    Game 5 * Mon May 7, Dallas at Oklahoma City, TBD
    Game 6 * Thu May 10, Oklahoma City at Dallas, TBD
    Game 7 * Sat May 12, Dallas at Oklahoma City ,TBD, TNT

    Read on for more on this fascinating first round matchup.

Superstars Who Must Shine

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    Last postseason, the Dallas Mavericks used balanced ball movement and defense under the leadership of Dirk Nowitzi to beat their opponents. It won't be that simple this year, even with a few of the major players returning.

    Dirk Nowitzki

    Nowitzki is the centerpiece to this team's attack and rightfully so. He is one of the most difficult players to cover in the NBA because of the combination of his size (seven feet tall) and his silky-smooth jumper (38 percent from three for career). He hit big clutch shots all the way through the playoffs last year, and this team will need him to do even more this year.

    Jason Terry

    Terry has been one of the best sixth men in the game for a decade, and there's has been very little drop-off in his production. The talented guard is averaging 15 points and 3.6 assist per game off the bench this year. He creates a huge matchup problem for opponent benches.

Role Player Who Must Emerge

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    It seems odd to refer to Shawn Marion as a role player who must emerge, but that is the role that this team will need him to play.

    While the Mavericks have become a very good team defense under Rick Carlisle in the past few years, Marion is by far their best one-on-one man defender. He will be called upon to cover Kevin Durant in the first round, one of the toughest defensive assignments in the league.

    Marion's ability to guard Durant may be the X-factor in whether Dallas can move on past the Thunder.

Offensive Strategy to Watch

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    The Dallas Mavericks' offensive strategy will be a fairly simple one: get Dirk Nowitzki the ball early and often.

    Dallas has not been the same team as last season on offense this year, and even Nowitzki has struggled at times to score the ball. The Mavericks don't have a single player that shoots 40 percent from three, which will hurt their strategy from last year to spread the floor.

    Nowitzki will have to shine even brighter than last year if Dallas is going to have a long playoff life.

Defensive Strategy to Watch

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    In last year's playoffs, Rick Carlisle's decision to switch to a 2-3 zone at times was a major difference against the Miami Heat. That defensive strategy stymied the Heat's fastbreak attempts and kept LeBron James and Dwyane Wade from getting into rhythm.

    It has the potential to have the same effect on Oklahoma City, who also likes to run and use its athleticism to get easy buckets. Forcing the Thunder to play slower and in the halfcourt will give Dallas a major advantage, and using a 2-3 zone could do that.

Biggest Hurdle in the First Round

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    The biggest hurdle for this team will be stopping Oklahoma City's young starpower from taking over games. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are one of the most talented duos in the NBA, and both are deserving of All-NBA First Team consideration.

    The Mavericks must significantly hamper Durant and Westbrook's scoring efforts. James Harden, the Thunder version of Jason Terry, is also a problem, but the defensive focus must start on Durant and Westbrook.

    Dallas will only win if they can slow down this two-headed monster.

Last-Second NBA Playoffs Prediction

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    Out in the First Round

    This Dallas Mavericks team is much different from the one that won the championship and was clearly better than Oklahoma City last season. The losses of J.J. Barea, DeShawn Stevenson, Tyson Chandler and Caron Butler will hurt this team far more than most realize.

    Even though  Nowitzki is the power behind this team’s engine, those complimentary parts played huge roles. Without them, Dallas will be out in the first round. It won’t be a sweep, but it will be an early exit.