Dallas Mavericks at Oklahoma City Thunder -7.5 (Total: 193.5)
Finally, and some would say mercifully, the NBA Playoffs have arrived. While the final few weeks of the regular season may have been slightly devoid of intrigue, but that will all come to an end today as the “real” season begins.
There is no shortage of fantastic matchups. The glamour series that will garner the most interest is Miami versus New York. Can the Heat “flip the switch” and begin to play championship caliber basketball and deliver the first of many titles that were all but assumed once the Big Three were in place? Can the Knicks ride the hot hand of Carmelo Anthony to a win or two and make this series interesting? There is also some fantastic pairings out West. Will the Spurs avoid last year’s disastrous results and quickly dispatch of Utah in the #1 v #8 matchup? Can the Lakers regain flashes of their championship form and survive Denver to force a matchup with now-heated (thanks to World Peace) rival Oklahoma City in Round Two?
Perhaps the best series tips off in tonight’s nightcap, when the defending champion Mavericks head to Oklahoma City in a rematch of last year’s Western Conference Finals. This year though, things are a little different. OKC is the clear favorite and Dallas has lost a few key contributors from last year’s run in Tyson Chandler and JJ Barrea with no one to suitably replace them (see: Lamar Odom). That puts all the pressure on Dirk to recapture last year’s “get on my back guys” magic; and to this point I’ve seen very little indication that it can happen.
Oklahoma City has had their fair share of struggles down the stretch. For four months they looked like the team to beat in the NBA before a 7-7 finish dropped them from the top spot in the West and raised some real questions as to whether the young Thunder was championship-ready.
Good news for OKC, James Harden is expected to play today, marking his return from the concussion suffered by Ron Artest’s decapitation attempt last weekend. With Harden back, the question becomes, “will he be effective?” If he is, OKC has a troika of scorers no one else in the league can match (even Miami). If he isn’t fresh, the Thunder has a tendency to devolve into Russell Westbrook taking a few too many shots and the rest of the team watching he and Durant a little too much.
I think Oklahoma City wins this series, probably in five games, but I like the Mavs to come out and show a little resistance today. The underdog has covered in nine of the last ten matchups between these two teams, including four of four this regular season and four of five in last year’s playoff series.
I think Westbrook might come out a little too aggressive offensively and Harden will be feeling his way back a bit. Plus you have to like the streak of the underdog in this series. Give me Dallas to put up a good fight in the series opener and finally take the “defending” in defending champs a little bit seriously.
Free Pick: Dallas Mavericks +7.5