NBA Playoffs 2011: 7 Players Who Must Step Up for Mavericks to Beat Thunder
The Dallas Mavericks are in the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2006.
To get here, they had to go through two difficult teams—the Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Lakers.
Against the Blazers, Jason Kidd and Dirk Nowitzki had amazing performances in Games 1 and 2 to give the Mavericks a 2-0 series lead. Despite Portland’s valiant efforts to come back, Dallas won in six games.
The Lakers series was an upset of epic proportions, and Nowitzki proved he is still one of the best in the game. He outplayed Kobe Bryant and the Mavs swept the Lakers in a team effort.
The Mavericks now find themselves in the conference finals. They have a superstar who is practically unstoppable and a collection of players who know their roles—and execute them to perfection.
To get past the young and athletic Oklahoma City Thunder, the Mavs must play their best basketball.
Here are the seven players who must step up for the Dallas Mavericks to beat the OKC Thunder and punch their ticket to the NBA Finals.
7. Peja Stojakovic
The Mavs signed Peja Stojakovic in late January for one reason—to drain three pointers.
While his regular season was mostly uneventful, he has been an assassin in the playoffs.
Against the Lakers, Stojakovic scored 15 points in Game 3 and 21 points in Game 4. He is shooting 52 percent beyond the arc in the playoffs.
The one thing holding Stojakovic back is his inconsistency—some games he has a big impact and other games he goes unnoticed.
Against the Thunder, Nowitzki and Jason Terry will draw a lot of attention. When the inevitable double-team comes, Stojakovic must be able to hit three-pointers.
6. JJ Barea
While JJ Barea played a small role in the Portland series, he was a stud against Los Angeles.
In a critical Game 2, Barea scored 12 points off the bench and was a big reason the Mavs went up 2-0.
In the Game 4 blowout, he went off. He scored 22 points and recorded eight assists despite the cheap shot he received from Andrew Bynum.
Barea has been the Mavs' spark plug off the bench all season long and has continued his success in the playoffs. Against the Thunder, he will be tasked with guarding the taller Russell Westbrook at times.
Many people already believe the Mavs’ bench is better than the Thunders' reserves. It is up to Barea to prove them right.
5. Jason Kidd
Jason Kidd was absolutely amazing against Portland. He totaled 42 points in the first two games and was instrumental in his team winning both.
Kidd shot only 28 percent in the Lakers’ series, but he found other ways to contribute. He helped keep Kobe in check and came up with several big steals in pivotal moments.
Kidd is the Mavericks’ floor general. He runs the team’s offense and puts his teammates in the best position to score.
He doesn’t have a chance at guarding Westbrook, so he will most likely defend the Thunders' shooting guards—James Harden and Thabo Sefolosha.
If Kidd can play solid defense against those two and still be effective on offense, the Mavs should be just fine.
4. Tyson Chandler
While Tyson Chandler’s postseason stats have not been overly impressive, he has made his presence felt.
Chandler is the backbone of the Maverick defense and is the key reason no one refers to this team as “soft” anymore.
The Thunders' Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka are very active big men who will look to control the paint.
For the Mavericks to win the series, Chandler will need to keep them off the boards.
3. Shawn Marion
Shawn Marion has the unenviable task of guarding the NBA’s leading scorer, Kevin Durant.
Durant enters the series with a lot of confidence. While he played poorly in the Game-6 loss against Memphis, Durant was a beast in Game 7. He scored 39 points on 13-of-25 shooting.
Marion must make Durant a high-volume shooter and force him to catch the ball beyond the three-point line like Memphis did.
Durant has a major speed advantage, so look for Marion to try and funnel him to the Mavericks’ shot-blockers.
"The Matrix" has a very tough job ahead of him. If he can keep Durant in check, the Mavs will make it back to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2006.
2. Jason Terry
Like many of the Mavericks’ players, Terry has elevated his game in the postseason.
In the first two rounds of the playoffs, he averaged 18 points a game and shot over 50 percent from the field and beyond the arc.
While his offense was one of the key reasons the Mavs have been successful, his defense will be far more important this round.
Terry is usually tasked with guarding the other team’s point guard. He had an easy job against the Lakers’ Derek Fisher and the Blazers’ Andre Miller.
He will have a much tougher time trying to stay in front of the speedy Westbrook.
1. Dirk Nowitzki
Is Nowitzki the most underrated superstar in the NBA?
Since Dallas fell apart in the 2006 NBA Finals, many have questioned Dirk as a leader and as a big-game player. In the 2011 postseason, he has been proving all of his doubters wrong.
Like Terry, Nowitzki has been on fire in the playoffs. He is shooting 50 percent from the field and 60 percent from downtown.
He was stellar against the Lakers and showed that he—not Kobe—was the best player on the floor throughout the series.
The Thunder have a lot of star power, but Dirk needs to outshine Durant and Westbrook. The Blazers couldn’t stop him. The Lakers couldn’t stop him. No one on Oklahoma City can stop him.
This will be a tough series and will probably go the distance. The Thunder may have an advantage in speed and athleticism, but the Mavericks are the more complete team.
If Nowitzki delivers the way he has all season, the Mavs will win.
Series prediction: Mavs in seven.