The Dallas Mavericks are coming off a sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers and are still awaiting an opponent for the Western Conference Finals. The winner of Game 7 of the Memphis Grizzlies vs. Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday will head to American Airlines Center on Tuesday for Game 1 against Dallas.
As the Mavericks wait for their opponent and rest, they also must be prepared for the Thunder or Grizzlies because each team possesses youth and athleticism, as opposed to both the Blazers and Lakers. Portland and L.A. were much older teams and didn't have the energy and quickness like Oklahoma City and Memphis do.
The Mavericks will have their hands full with whichever squad they play and are going to have to bring their momentum from their last series heading into Tuesday.
In order to get back to the NBA Finals, the Mavericks must continue playing great and exploit the weaknesses of Memphis or Oklahoma City.
The Thunder and Grizzlies thrive off turnovers and both run a full-court offense. However, this year's playoff basketball has been dominated by half-court offenses, which the Mavs have done a great job of executing in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
The Mavs want to continue forcing the half-court by limiting turnovers and executing on offense in order to avoid quick transition points by their opponent. Oklahoma City and Memphis each do a great job running up and down the court and scoring on transition offense, so Dallas needs to play smart basketball.
The Mavs actually did a great job limiting their turnovers against Portland and L.A., only losing the basketball 12.3 times a game, second best among all playoff teams. Nonetheless, both those teams don't match the Thunder or Grizzlies in forced turnovers, as each finished in the top three in steals.
By limiting the transition offense, the Mavericks can put the pressure on their opponent to play the half-court.
Both the Grizzlies and Thunder pose a great front-court, playing tough on defense and staying strong on the boards.
Dirk Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler must continue playing tough inside as they did against the Lakers' bigs.
For the Thunder, new-addition Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka are both excellent defenders who play strong in the post.
The Grizzlies pose an even more difficult matchup with Zack Randolph and Marc Gasol, who have both been terrific in this year's playoffs.
Nowitzki will have to keep up his offensive production and try to continue getting to the free-throw line.
Chandler, the heart and soul of this Dallas team, will really need to bring his toughness and mentality into this series by crashing the boards for rebounds and playing good defense.
Nowitzki and Chandler did a very good job last series against Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum and will have to continue putting up a fight with the Thunders' or Grizzlies' bigs.
As said earlier, the Thunder and Grizzlies are very quick and athletic when going up and down the court.
Mike Conley and Russell Westbrook both lead a fast-paced offense in which the Mavericks are going to have to be ready for.
Transition defense is key in order for the Mavericks to be in position to get stops and limit quick scores. The Thunder and Grizzlies do a very good job of taking advantage of every opportunity to run down the court and force a mismatch to exploit. Getting back on defense and hustling down the court will be vital for the Mavericks to slow down the young Oklahoma City or Memphis teams.
With over a week of rest, the Mavs' veterans have had plenty of rest and now have fresh legs. Rick Carlisle has emphasized staying aggressive and active on defense due to the explosiveness of each potential opponent.
Dallas has been doing a great job of this lately, being one of the better defensive teams in the playoffs, but they will need to continue that in the Conference Finals.
Jason Terry had a record tieing 9 three pointers in Game 4 vs. the Lakers
The biggest factor for the Mavericks getting to the WCF is their bench production. The bench continues to score a lot of points and dominate opposing teams as they outscored the Lakers' bench 198-107 in the second round.
The reserves must bring that fire power to this series because the Thunder and Grizzlies both have good benches of their own.
The Mavs' bench is lead by the likes of Jason Terry and Peja Stojakovic, who had career games in the Game 4 blowout against the Lakers. Both combined for 24-40 in three-point shots last series, helping Dallas dominate Los Angeles.
J.J. Barea has also played a huge role, providing energy and a much-needed spark coming in for Jason Kidd. Barea just keeps getting better and gets everyone involved in the offense when he's on the court. His increase in minutes has let the 38-year-old Kidd get some more rest during games.
In addition, the Mavs also have Brendan Haywood, who is a solid backup center who has been playing good defense inside lately.
The production and contribution from the bench will be much needed for the Mavericks to score a lot of points and take the pressure off the starters.
The Mavericks went into the Portland and Lakers' series as underdogs because many spectators did not expect this team to overcome their past playoff failures. With that chip on their shoulder the Mavs knew they had something to prove.
The doubts would rise even further when Dallas had an epic meltdown in Game 4 against Portland when they blew a 23-point lead. However, the Mavs responded and showed that they put the past behind them by winning the series on the road in Portland in Game 6.
Before the second round, skeptics did not give Dallas a chance against the two-time defending champs. What did the Mavs do to respond? A 4-0 sweep with a huge beating in Game 4 to send the Lakers home.
With that said, the Mavs need to continue to play with motivation and something to prove. The players know that if they continue playing the way they have been during their active six-game winning streak, then getting the franchise's first championship is possible.
Therefore, they must show the rest of the nation they are for real and that the past meltdowns in the playoffs are over. The veteran leadership and mentality in the locker room is a big factor for Dallas to get to their ultimate goal.
All in all, the Mavericks are a better team than the Grizzlies and Thunder.
By playing smart basketball and continuing to stay aggressive, they can win this series.
Dallas will have home-court advantage in the WCF, and by continuing to play well at home, a trip to the Finals is at their grasp.
Nowitzki will need to keep up his outstanding play along with the bench in order for the Mavs to light it up on offense.
All season long, the Mavs have made defense a big priority, which has and will be crucial to their run at the title.
With the veteran leadership, momentum and rest, Dallas will win this series if they can avoid a postseason meltdown from the past.