The reasons are few and far between for hope.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are faster, quicker and more athletic. They're a relentless offensive team, a solid defensive team.
They're a better team than the Dallas Mavericks.
In all honesty, it's not very close. Dallas should feel lucky to get a game or two against this team. The Thunder are tired of little brother status in the Western Conference. Tired of hearing about chemistry issues or not having enough guile. This could be a blood-bath.
It could be.
Dallas has depth. The Mavericks have a sneaky good half-court defense. They have an inconsistent offense just looking to break free. They have Dirk.
But there's the key word: inconsistency.
Look past all the metrics. Like the Thunder are the second best isolation team in the NBA and the Mavericks are the 28th in the league in defending it. Or the Thunder get to the free throw line an ungodly amount, and the Mavericks barely sniff the line more than 10 times a game. Look at it in even simpler terms.
Dallas hasn't looked like a true winner since, well, last summer. At no point throughout this season did the Mavericks put together a stretch of games where everyone took a step back and thought wait, they could actually do this again.
Instead, it's been 13-point wins over the Thunder followed by back-to-back losses to the Warriors and Kings. It's allowing Raymond Felton to score over 30 points and a hapless Blazers bunch to win in overtime. It's a semi-impressive showing against a full-strength Bulls team followed by an absolutely lazy and disheartening showing to close out the season in Atlanta. At no point during this season did the Mavericks grab this season by the throat and say we're ready.
Which is a shame, because the total parts equal a roster that could give the Thunder fits. Other than Nick Collison, OKC doesn't have someone to handle Dirk for a full game. Delonte West is the mutant lovechild of J.J. Barea and DeShawn Stevenson (*shivers*) and will help out in trying to stay in front of Russell Westbrook while crafting out quality looks with his midrange game.
Brendan Haywood isn't the greatest, but his length and size help against an active Thunder frontline. Brandan Wright and Ian Mahinmi match up well and could provide good minutes against OKC's second unit. As long as Kevin Durant is nowhere to be seen, Vince Carter could knock down a few threes. Shawn Marion has been one of the best defenders in the NBA this year.
See what I just did? I just got you into thinking Dallas has a chance. That the Mavericks could spring off perhaps an even bigger upset then any series in June 2011. But in reality, it can't happen, because while the descriptions I described above have shown up from time to time, they've never come together. There's always something holding the Mavericks back this season, not everyone has been on the same page, playing well at the same time.
And while the Mavericks top-five defense has started the unravel, it's the offense that will hold this team back. Dallas will keep every game relatively close, with Rick Carlisle pushing every button he can, calling every timeout he's allowed and making every sub. He can inspire the Mavericks and put them in the right places to play effective defense. But he can't make shots for them.
Every game will most likely be close. But when it's the fourth quarter and both teams just have to have that bucket to stay afloat, to keep pace, I can't see Dallas consistently doing that. I see visions of 2010, 2008, 2007...
There's hope. There always is with No. 41. But it isn't enough.
The Thunder in six games.