The Western Conference finalists from a year ago will meet in the first round of the 2012 NBA Playoffs. The Oklahoma City Thunder have had to wait just 66 games to get an opportunity to exact revenge on the Dallas Mavericks. Last season, the Mavericks defeated the Thunder four games to one in the Western Conference finals en route to the 2011 NBA Championship.
Oklahoma City has home-court advantage this time, and the second-seeded Thunder hope that they can end the Mavericks' championship reign without having to play a Game 7 at home. These teams met four times during the regular season and the Thunder won the season series 3-1.
James Harden, who suffered a concussion when Metta World Peace of the Los Angeles Lakers elbowed him in the Thunder-Lakers game Sunday afternoon, has been cleared to play and is expected to be in Oklahoma City's lineup for Game 1 against the Mavericks. He is the favorite to win the Sixth Man Award and will be one of the keys to the Thunder sustaining a long playoff run. Harden comes in off the bench and gives his team whatever it needs. As a glue guy, he is the perfect complement to Oklahoma City All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. He will need to perform at a high level if the Thunder hope to make another appearance in the Western Conference finals.
Oklahoma City Thunder versus Dallas Mavericks Western Conference First-Round Schedule
Game 1: Saturday, April 28, Dallas Mavericks at Oklahoma City Thunder, 9:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
Game 2: Monday, April 30, Dallas Mavericks at Oklahoma City Thunder, 9:30 p.m. ET on TNT
Game 3: Thursday, May 3, Oklahoma City Thunder at Dallas Mavericks, 9:30 p.m. ET on TNT
Game 4: Saturday, May 5, Oklahoma City Thunder at Dallas Mavericks, 7:30 p.m. ET on TNT
Game 5: Monday, May 7, Dallas Mavericks at Oklahoma City Thunder, TBD (if necessary)
Game 6: Thursday, May 10, Oklahoma City Thunder at Dallas Mavericks, TBD (if necessary)
Game 7: Saturday, May 12, Dallas Mavericks at Oklahoma City Thunder, TBD on TNT (if necessary)
The Thunder, who missed the playoffs altogether three years ago, know that they must crawl before they can run. And before they can even consider advancing to the 2012 Western Conference Finals they will have to defeat the defending NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks in the first round.
To do that, Oklahoma City will have to limit their turnovers. During the regular season the Thunder committed more turnovers (16.3) than any other team in the NBA. If they want to have an extended postseason run, the Thunder will have to do a better job of protecting the ball. Dallas took advantage of Oklahoma City's miscues (16.2 per game) in last year's conference finals, and the veteran-laden Mavericks will be ready to do it again if the Thunder give them opportunities to do so.
To offset their turnovers, Oklahoma City will have to use its speed and athleticism to get out in transition and score some easy buckets. In their half-court sets, the Thunder should use dribble penetration to attack the rim since the Mavericks lack a bona fide shot blocker to protect the paint.
For the Mavericks to have a chance in this series, they will have to convert Thunder turnovers into easy scoring opportunities of their own. Dallas, who makes 7.5 three pointers per game, will need to make more than their fair share of threes to help offset Oklahoma City's transition buckets.
The defending champion Mavericks will not go gently into that good night, but ultimately Oklahoma City's speed and athleticism will prove to be a little too much for Dallas to handle.
Prediction: Thunder 4-2
Mark is a lifelong fan of the NBA who has loved the game of basketball ever since his first trip to an NBA arena. Mark has watched more basketball games than anyone can count and has more than 100 articles about the NBA published on the internet. Mark also shares his random NBA musings and game-by-game predictions on RandomNBAFan.com.
More on the 2012 Playoffs:
Information from NBA.com's 2012 Playoffs Schedule; ESPN.com's Oklahoma City Thunder's James Harden (concussion) cleared to return, sits out finale as precaution and 2011-12 Regular Season NBA Team Stats was used for this article.