I assume you guys are familiar with that picture. Not a long time ago we were able to make fun about every single analyst during last years Championship run because nobody gave crap about the Mavericks. But if you assume that being Champs means getting the benefit of the doubt or respect (Jason Kidd anyone?) then I have to tell you it's even getting worse. The regular season made it hard to fully evaluate the Mavs and we all know they seriously have to flip a switch in the playoffs to make a decent run (which means getting out of the first round in the first place), but the analysts aren't convinced Dallas will be able to. The overwhelming majority is picking the Thunder to win the series and overwhelming in this case means I've found a single one, Jan Hubbard of SheridanHoops.com, that predicts the Mavs to advance.
On a second thought, maybe it's not too bad the Mavs are flying under the radar once again. They thrived in this role last year and although the roster has significantly changed (for the worse), the team will be able to just let things simmer. Not a bad position to be in. The overwhelming pressure of winning the first title in franchise history is gone and this was supposed to be a transitional year anyway. The lockout and schedule structure didn't benefit them at all and so who could be mad? After running out of fresh shirts on a regular basis during last years run, because the sweat kept coming and coming, I personally feel like I can just chill and hopefully watch some better basketball than the regular season was offering.
On the other hand: This also means the excuses are right in front of the players. Blame the lockout, the front office, Lamar Odom, whatever. The first round, maybe even the very first game Saturday, will tell you a lot about whether the Mavs will be able to turn on their grit. I think based on a sheer talent/experience level both teams aren't that much apart.
But: Will we see the team that faced the Altanta Hawks yesterday or will we see the team that gave the Thunder a fight in every regular season game, the team that beat them in the Western Conference Finals last year? Not that I try to overreact to a final and meaningless regular season game in which they missed Jason Kidd, the other team tried to clinch homecourt in the first round and stuff, but being honest we've seen way too many uninspired performances throughout. The motivation and engine is surely lower than last season and so it'll be even harder to find the swag and not to mentally check out of games earlier than usual (let's say, 15 point deficit with 4:30 remaining?).
I have to say this series has a great potential to become a role reversal of last years second round matchup against the Lakers: A tired championship team that hasn't found their (locker room) groove against hungry foes. But the Mavericks indeed have another chance to defy the odds and who knows what happens to the chemistry and engine once they will have survived the first round. One thing I'm really intrigued in seeing is if the Mavs, well rested, at full strength, can somehow work the same magic like last year. Crunch time efficiency, outsmarting opponents on the court and on the bench, crisp ball movement and letting Russell Westbrook name his first son Delonte.
If not, we can live with the result regardless. Right?
I mean, as long as we get Deron Williams of course.
After the jump you'll find a collection of playoff previews from around the web with lots of opinions why Dallas will definitely lose the series.
- ESPN's series page as always has their expert picks. It's thirteen. Thirteen to zero.
- Jeff Caplan of ESPNDallas.com writes about the importance of Marion and, surprise, Dirk
- Five Factors: Mavericks-Thunder Playoff Preview from SheridanHoops.com with the pick of the aforementioned rebel Jan Hubbard
- NBA Playoffs: One X Factor to Watch in Every First-Round Series from Grantland.com. Sebastian Pruiti takes the Thunder in 6
- Yahoo! Sports series page with pick from their experts. Wojnarowski not going for the sweep? Strange...
- SBNation's previews around the blogosphere with the contribution of our mamager Lisa "LJ" Rotter!
- NBA's series hub with a video of the TNT crew predicting the Thunder will dismantle the Mavs. Oh Chuck...
- PBT Preview: John Krolik picks the Thunder in 6
- SI.com expert brackets: Mavericks to advance? Anyone?
- The brains of WagesOfWins give the Mavs a 25% chance to get out of the first round. Not too bad considering what you've read so far, no?
- Teamrankings.com disagrees, say 19.1% you fools!