2011 NBA WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS -- Mavericks vs. Thunder: My Top 10 Observer-ations
9. What a couple of weeks for Mavs coach Rick Carlisle. At 2-2 in the Portland series, I truly believe he was two losses from losing his job. Now he's joined Larry Brown, George Karl, Pat Riley, Alex Hannum and Bill Fitch as the only coaches to lead three different teams to the conference finals. Carlisle's teams in Detroit '03 and Indianapolis '04 both lost in the East Finals. Coincidentally, Carlisle and Brooks played on the same pro team -- the old Continental Basketball Association's Albany Patroons back in '87.
8. Was thinking about all the teams in the playoffs and there's no doubt the most dominant team has been your Mavericks. They are 8-2 in the postseason, and in one of the losses they blew a 23-point lead. Dallas is 5-0 at AAC by an average of 14.6 points, with no game closer than six.
7. Not sure about Kevin Durant's post-game backpack look, but he was a beast yesterday in OKC's clincher. After missing seven of his first nine shots he still managed 39 points. And the much-maligned Russell Westbrook produced a rarity -- the Game 7 triple-double. In Durant's time on the court in the playoffs, OKC is +66; Westbrook +58. The NBA leaders in plus/minus: the Bulls' Luol Deng (+126), Derrick Rose (+117) and then Dirk Nowitzki (+108).
6. Texas-OU, here we come. In the final minutes of yesterday's 105-90 Game 7 victory over the Grizzlies, Thunder fans started "We want Dallas!" The Mavs were 2-1 against OKC in the regular season, but they haven't met since January 6. Dirk was hurt early in one game and all the meetings came before OKC's facelift trade for Kendrick Perkins.
4. I'm not suggesting taking the Thunder lightly, but if you're one of those Mavs fans who dares to peek ahead, Dallas was 2-0 against the Heat this season and 0-2 against the Bulls. Because of better regular-season records, Chicago (62 wins) or Miami (58) would have the NBA Finals homecourt advantage over the Mavs (57).
3. Fear the beard, part 2? In the World Series it was the Giants' Brian Wilson and his flagrant facial bush who slammed the door on the Rangers. Don't think OKC's James Harden is as dominant of a closer but, just the same, I wouldn't be upset if he shaved before the series.
2. For those -- like owner Mark Cuban -- who keep telling me I'm crazy when I say there is indeed a psychological connection, even scars, from 2006 lingering on the Mavs' 2011 squad, allow me to defer to Dirk. Interviewed on ESPN's "Sunday Conversation," he said: "It's going to stick with us the rest of our lives until we make the moment go away. Thinking about how we were up 2-0 and lost is still a sour note. Hopefully we can do something about that." I know only Dirk and Jason Terry are around from that team, but aren't they also the leaders of this squad?
1. Like all NBA playoff series, this one is about matchups and, in particular, pace. For the Mavs, the slower the better. They will lose a track meet to the twentysomething Thunder. Simple: If the Mavs keep their turnovers reasonable -- I'm talking 12 or fewer per game -- they win this series. If not..."They bring major athletes at you," Carlisle said. "Great speed and quickness at four positions. Our focus has to be on transition defense and taking care of the basketball. If we turn the ball over consistently we can lose to this team."