Oh, Yeah — The Mavs Are Still Playing.

Nine days after their last game, Your Dallas Mavericks will return to the court tomorrow night, against the Oklahoma City Thunder, in the first game of the Western Conference Finals. The extra rest will come in handy, probably, since the schedule for this I-35 series calls for games every other day. A few questions, before it gets going.

I stopped watching the Mavericks after the 2007 season. What’s up? Not much, traitor.

Don’t be a jerk. OK, fine: remember how good Dirk Nowitzki was when you stopped watching? MVP season and all of that? Yeah, well, he’s better now. His step-back fadeaway is essentially unguardable, up there with Hakeem Olajuwon’s Dream Shake and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s sky hook. It will one day make a pretty awkward/awesome statue in front of the AAC. Jason Kidd is back on the team, healing the wounds of the ill-fated Three J’s era. Let’s see, what else? Jason Terry is still around, nailing threes and running around like a plane, but he and Dirk are the only holdovers from that ’07 squad. So don’t immediately start panicking if the Mavs run into a bit of trouble against the Thunder. No ghosts here. Except for the Ghostface Drillah.

I’ve been watching this whole time. Awesome. Respect.

Thanks. Anyway, basketball questions. Of course.

Who guards Nowitzki? Short answer: no one. Long answer: some combination of Serge Ibaka, Kevin Durant, and Nick Collison. They may even have a modicum of success. Ibaka’s strength and size may bother him at times, and Collison’s fundamentally sound approach (read: lots of attempted charges) may, too. But, rest assured, Dirk will get his. The last time anyone effectively guarded Nowitzki in the playoffs was (yeah) the 2007 Golden State series. But the blueprint they used — physical play with smaller defenders, working hard to push him off his spots prior to receiving the ball — that doesn’t work anymore.

OK, well, who guards Kevin Durant? See above. KD is built to score. He can shoot over almost anyone, he’s quicker than defenders who measure up, bigger than guys who can keep up, and he shares Nowitzki’s offensive efficiency. Memphis had a bit of success simply not letting him get the ball, but the Mavs don’t have a Tony Allen on the roster. The Shawn Marion of a few years ago would have been good. The Marion of now, the one they have, is adequate. I suppose the idea is to try to get him in spots on the court he doesn’t like, and make him work to get to the ones he does. Again, that is the idea. We’ll see.

What specific play should the Mavericks key their entire defense around? The side pick and roll the Thunder run with Russell Westbrook and Durant, with James Harden and his magnificent beard spotting up on the weak side. It is basketball murder because it doesn’t present many good options/outcomes.

What will give the Thunder fits? If the Mavs maintain the proper spacing, then the lineup with JJ Barea, JET, Dirk, Peja Stojakovic, and either Tyson Chandler or Brendan Haywood. Four shooters, one guy who can get to the rim at will (JJB), one guy who is sneakily good at it (JET), DIRK, and a rejuvenated Peja. I’m not saying it will be Game 4 against the Lakers every time, but it’s tough even for a good defensive team to cover all of that ground.

Can Mark Cuban keep his mouth shut throughout the entire series? If he did it against the Lakers, I suspect he can probably do it against the Thunder. That’s not really a basketball question.

Well, it is if you are one of the people who holds to the theory that the referees treat the Mavs differently because of Cubes’ mouth. OK. I see that. Anything else?

Big players in this series? Besides the obvious, probably Westbrook’s blipster glasses. Based on yesterday, their appearance generally shuts down the internet.

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