The Mavericks needed just four games to dispose of the back-to-back champion Lakers. The Thunder needed seven games to defeat the eighth seeded Grizzlies. There is no question that Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Jason Terry and Company are the favorites to represent the Western Conference, but the Thunder wont go down without a fight. Get ready for an entertaining Western Conference Finals. Oh, and there is another battle taking place out East...
My questions for the Western Conference Finals and the Eastern Conference Finals ...
The questions that face the Mavericks and Thunder:
- How will the Mavericks defend Russell Westbrook?
In the Lakers vs. Mavs series we saw Kidd guard Kobe Bryant and he did a great job covering him. But Kobe is no longer the athletic freak he was earlier in his career, but Westbrook is in his athletic prime (but not his basketball prime). Terry, Kidd, Barea, and whoever else the Mavs use to guard Westbrook will have their work cut out for them - as Mike Conley, O.J. Mayo, and Tony Allen can attest to.
Can Kevin Durant keep up his high level of play?
Durant has been nothing short of spectacular in these 2011 playoffs, averaging 28 points and 7.5 rebounds. His three-point shooting percentage is up from 35% in the regular season to 37% in the post-season and he's averaging 9.9 free throw attempts per game (8.7 attempts during the regular season). The Mavericks will throw some decent defenders at him, but can Shawn Marion and others keep Durant from being the difference maker his team desperately needs? Good luck.
- How will OKC's role players react?
Dallas is the veteran squad gunning for another shot at NBA glory. They have a lot of guys who have been here before and already know what it will take to win this series. The Thunder have yet to play like they are just happy to have advanced past the first-round and now that they are in the WCFs will the young guys wilt under the pressure? James Harden averaged 10.4 points per game against the Nuggets and 13.9 ppg against the Grizzlies, but will he continue to be that reliable third scoring option the team can lean on? How will Serge Ibaka and others play on such a big stage?
- Can Nowitzki maintain his high level of play?
You can see that Dirk wants nothing more than to reach the Finals and win a championship. He is playing out of his mind to boot. The big German is averaging 26.5 ppg and 8.4 rebounds per game in the post-season, but his shooting is very impressive as he's shooting 49.7% from the field and 60% from beyond the arc.
- Who will close when the games come down to the wire?
Nowitzki has turned himself into a monster at the end of games. Durant is trying to follow that same path. It will be great to see in close games which guys can hit the biggest shots.
The questions that face the Bulls and Heat:
- Can Derrick Rose lead his team past the star-studded Heat?
There is no question that the Heat have the two best players in this series, but Rose is nowhere near chopped liver. The League's MVP is averaging 28.8 ppg, 8.2 assists, and 4.5 rebounds heading into the Eastern Conference Finals to go along with 3.6 turnovers per game. The Bulls go where Rose takes them. So far, so good. But the Bulls face a huge challenge trying to stop LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
- Will the Bulls defense shut down the fast-paced Heat offense?
Chicago boasts the best defense left in the playoffs and the team prides itself on that tough Tom Thibodeau defensive style. Chicago won Game 1, 103-82, and have already shown the Heat what their defense can do. Miami has struggled in close games and in games where their fast-breaking style is shut down. Half-court offense isn't Miami's strength and that's typically what teams need in the playoffs to advance to win it all.
- How can the Heat get rebounds in this series?
Out West it's all about size and winning the game on the boards. In the East things seem to be a bit different, but not much and not against the Bulls. Chicago has great front court players and Joakim Noah does a great job on the glass (and getting his team second chance opportunities). Miami is missing great inside presence and it's up to Chris Bosh to try to set the tone on the glass and protect the rim along with Joel Anthony. Bosh isn't a great rebounder or inside player and needs all the help he can get from his two stars.
The Rockets are looking at some smaller names, sans Kevin McHale. The Warriors are looking hard at former Cleveland coach Mike Brown. Meanwhile, the Lakers might be leaning towards Rick Adelman over in-house candidates Brian Shaw and Chuck Person.
A story about Rick Welts, the president of the Phoenix Suns, coming out and saying he's gay. A great story that talks about his rise from being a ball boy to finally making it as a team executive. Hopefully Welts can be a role model to a lot of kids and show that hard work will pay off.
A sweet historical look at various teams and the Nuggets appearing three times! The Nuggets never selected a good player with the fourth worst record ... not really a surprise.
Hochman writes an entertaining piece that has a pretty bleak outlook for small-market fans.
A nice in-depth feature on the Bulls head coach - I didn't know much about him until I read this one.
Friend wrote that great piece on Chauncey Billups after he was traded to Denver and if you can stomach it, this is a nice piece on Durant as well.
The Commish with a special letter to the fans in Sac-Town, pretty cool.
Get an update on all things off-the-court in the NBA. I hope the lockout is short and sweet, lots of off season moves await the Nuggets!
A nice feature on Phil Jackson from Beck.
Kidd has played for the title a couple times, but the 38 year-old guard might only have one more run in him as a featured player.
The Bucks need a new arena (the Bradley Center is 22 years-old aka not old!), perhaps they should consult Feinstein's grandma on the design as she is a big Milwaukee fan.
Nate Timmons on Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/Nate_Timmons