NBA Playoffs 2011: The X-Factors for Dallas Mavericks and Oklahoma City Thunder
Although Kevin Durant and Dirk Nowitzki will be garnering the most attention in the upcoming Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Dallas Mavericks match-up, there are several other players who will make the series interesting as well.
These players for each of their respective teams have become commonly known amongst the NBA and all of sports for that matter as "X-Factors".
While the Superstars like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Dirk Nowitzki are all expected to perform at an elite level, there is always a player whose performance may come as a surprise for both squads, ultimately giving them the edge and combining with the star power on their team to have the best chance of moving onto the NBA Finals.
The following two players may come as a surprise to fans, but have a chance to make a tremendous impact on the outcome of the series, as both of their contributions go well beyond the stat sheet and are equally as important in determining who wins and who goes home.
Oklahoma City Thunder's X-Factor: Nick Collison
Nick Collison gets the nod here because of the stellar defensive job he did against Zach Randolph of the Memphis Grizzlies.
Collison performed so well against Randolph defensively that he steadily stole minutes away from Serge Ibaka and played well with an increased role.
While Serge Ibaka is easily the team's best shot-blocker, he is not known for his man to man defense, which will certainly be needed against the scoring prowess of Dirk Nowitzki.
It will be interesting to see how Scott Brooks distributes the minutes however, since Nowitzki is quicker than Randolph and is a professional shot maker, meaning that he can hit all kinds of off-balance shots, and his agility allows him to burst to the hoop quicker than Randolph. Although he showed great improvement in this part of his game in the playoffs, he is nowhere near the scoring level that Nowitzki is on.
While many will call James Harden the X-Factor, Harden will not have the difficult task of having to defend the Mavericks number one scoring seven footer Dirk Nowitzki.
If Collison is able to stay up on Nowitzki and not allow him to create shots and get to the free throw line, where he shoots incredibly well for a seven footer at almost 90%, the Thunder will have a great chance of winning the series, as Nowitzki is the go to guy for the Mavericks, much the same way Randolph was the go to guy for the Grizzlies.
Dallas Mavericks' X-Factor: Rodrigue Beaubois
Granted this choice will surprise plenty of fans since he has not played a single game in the series. However, there is a tremendous amount of logic behind this choice, especially since it has recently surfaced in the media that Rick Carlisle has mentioned Roddy Buckets could be let loose at some point in the Western Conference Finals against Kevin Durant and Company.
In three contests against the Dallas Mavericks this season Russell Westbrook averaged 14.3 PPG, which is 9 PPG less than his season's average. Even more interestingly, this occurred with Jason Kidd covering him for the majority of those three games.
Three games is a very small sample size for a colossally talented budding superstar like Westbrook, who at times can be inconsistent. Now wrap your head around this: Jason Kidd has played in the NBA for 16 years, Westbrook is 22 years old! Get where I'm going with this?
To put it mildly, Kidd is getting up there in age and is not going to be able to chase around the freakishly athletic and lightning quick Westbrook over the course of a best of seven series. As the saying goes experience is a good teacher. However, age will become a factor in this matchup before long if Carlisle decides to run with Kidd the whole time guarding Westbrook, and I would bet that the outcome would not be favorable for the Mavericks.
With Barea and Terry both being marginal defenders, the only logical choice left is none other than Roddy Beaubois.
At first glance, using a player who has yet to play even one game in the playoffs sounds absolutely insane. And it is. However, the positives outweigh the negatives. Let me explain.
While Roddy Buckets maybe a forgotten thought in the minds of many Mavericks fans, since it has been awhile since his 40 point exploding against the Golden State Warriors, he is quick, and has long arms which make him a solid defender. He can also score in benches as evidenced by the previous number he posted. Although it was against one of the worst defensive teams in the league, you have to be talented to score 40 points. I don't care who you're playing.
The ultimate decider however, will be whether his foot has healed well enough for him to play in the series. Carlisle has mentioned that he could play, but has not made a final decision yet on who will fill out the final spots on the roster.
If healthy, he could be a secret weapon for the Mavericks, since he is very hard to gameplan for considering he has yet to play in one playoff game this postseason.
If Beaubois is able to live up to his "Lightning Rod" nickname, the Thunder may be in for a real shock. (Sorry guys I know it's corny, it was just too easy). Beaubois has the speed and length to keep Westbrook on the perimeter, forcing him to shoot jumpers, as opposed to allowing him to get out on the fastbreak and drive to the hole where he is most affective. Beaubois is also plenty young enough to keep up with him if the series goes the full seven games.
Although it will not be an easy task for him, Beaubois has the potential to throw the Thunder off-balance and ultimately give the Mavs enough help to shut-down Westbrook. Westbrook already showed during the Grizzlies series that he can settle and take too many jumpers if his defender frustrates him enough.
While Durant will have players like Marion, Brewer and Butler guarding him and giving him all he can handle, I expect him to be dominant in this series, and believe locking down Westbrook is the more viable option in order to give the Mavericks the best chance at winning the series and advancing to the NBA Finals.
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