After a disjointed "condensed" regular season and a rough batch of opening-round games on Saturday overshadowed by Derrick Rose's devastating knee injury, the Dallas Mavericks and the Oklahoma City Thunder reminded basketball fans of how great the NBA can be with an exhilarating 99-98 shootout in Game 1.
1) The center position.
Brendan Haywood and Kendrick Perkins are fairly similar players: surly 260+ brick walls with limited lateral quickness and almost no offensive skill. They're extremely important in a series against Marc Gasol or Andrew Bynum; they're pretty much useless in this one. A rough analogy: having an elite CB in a match-up with a triple option team.
This is part of what makes Memphis and LA so dangerous: their big men severely impede the other team's roster flexibility.
If I were Rick Carlisle, I'd have Brandan Wright in the game for 35+ minutes a night in this series. He's a much better shot-blocker and offensive threat than either Mahinmi or Haywood.
Brooks was playing Perkins on Dirk in Game 1, which is crazy to me. Dirk had a few turnovers, but he's going to figure out a guy who can't move his feet or contest his shot pretty quickly.
2) The 5th Thunder on the floor
We know that Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and James Harden will be on the floor in crunch-time. If Brooks doesn't want Ibaka on Dirk because it prevents him from being a help-side defender, the logical choice is Nick Collison, who gives them more skill and quickness on the interior than Perkins.
A real wild-card would be putting Daequan Cook out there for his shooting, which would force Kevin Durant into defending Dirk. The Thunder had real success with Eric Maynor in this unit last season; his loss will be felt in this series.
3) Derek Fisher
This season, Fisher is averaging 5 points and 2 assists on 37% shooting. He has a PER of 5.9. There's nothing deceiving about those stats; he's really that bad. He's a 37-year old guard who can't score, shoot, defend or make plays for others. Every minute he is on the floor is a huge win for Dallas and a pretty big blow to Brooks' reputation.
4) Jason Kidd
Would any Dallas fan care to argue that he's a more valuable player than Delonte West? I'm honestly curious as to how you can watch those two play and think Kidd should be the one on the floor in crunch-time.
Neither team had an ideal rotation for this series in Game 1; now we'll see which coach blinks first.
Before the series started, I said Thunder in 7, which I'll stick with. However, this should be a lot closer than the Thunder in 5 predictions that were sweeping around the NBA blogosphere. It's definitely close enough where Brooks doing things like sticking with Perkins and Fisher could cost them the series.
I think home-court as well as the Harden/Terry matchup will give Oklahoma City the edge, but the real story is going to be Dirk vs. Durant. That's two of the most indefensible scorers in the NBA going toe-to-toe, and I expect at least one or two Larry Bird vs. Dominique Wilkins type shoot-outs in this series.
Check ball. This should be fun.