This might be one of the more intriguing matchups in the first round of the Western Conference Playoffs – the defending champion Dallas Mavericks taking on the up-and-coming Oklahoma City Thunder. This is also a rematch of last year’s Western Conference Finals series between the two teams in which Dallas won the series 4-1.

How the Thunder can win: Let MVP candidate Kevin Durant carry you to the next round. Edging out Kobe Bryant for his third consecutive scoring title, Durant is ready to take his team to the next level. Along with co-stars Russell Westbrook and James Harden (who is most likely going to win the 6th man of the year award), this Thunder team has a lot of fire power. They can push the ball or slow the game down with an efficient pick-and-roll, and Serge Ibaka guards the paint like no other player in the NBA.

How the Mavericks can win: Find a way to make guys not named Durant or Westbrook beat you. Let’s face it: this Dallas team is much different from last year’s the won it all. The absence of Tyson Chandler not only impacted the Mavs defensively which most people suspected, but also negatively impacted their offensive efficiency. The Mavericks do not score enough points to keep up with the run-and-gun offense of the young Thunder. The only chance Dallas has is to force the ball out of the hands of Durant and Westbrook and make other players beat you. This of course is much easier said than done. Both players can attack the rim but are also better than
average three point shooters.

Our prediction: Dallas just doesn’t have the personnel to compete in this series. As defending champions, I’d like to show some respect and say they can find a way to win a couple games, but I don’t see how. Oklahoma City repays Dallas for its Western Conference Finals loss last year and knocks the Mavericks out of the playoffs in five games.