DALLAS — The Mavericks are old. Seven players in their rotation in their 30s. Shawn Marion, Jason Terry and Peja Stojakovic are 33. Jason Kidd is 38, so old he once was coached by Dick Motta.
The Thunder is young. Only Nazr Mohammed is over 30. None of the top scorers has reached his 23rd birthday.
Old means wise. Old means experienced. Old means skilled, since one thing the NBA doesn't tolerate is old and bad.
Young means fresh. Young means fast. Young means never having to say you're tired.
The Western Conference Finals begin Tuesday night at American Airlines Center, and it's a classic matchup.
Can the Mavs make the Thunder pay for youthful mistakes? Not finding Terry on the wing. Leaping to block a Dirk Nowitzki shot that has yet to be launched.
Can the Thunder make the Mavs pay for old joints? Not having anyone with a prayer of guarding Russell Westbrook. Not getting back quickly when the Thunder seizes possession and takes off like the Oklahoma Land Run.
“If we don't get stops, we can't get transition points,” Kevin Durant said Monday, after flourishing with 39 points in the biggest test of his career, a Game 7 against Memphis. “But if we play D, get deflections and steals, you'll never know what will happen.”
Yes we do know. The Thunder will win. If the Thunder pushes the ball, turns this series into a sprint relay, the Thunder is NBA Finals bound.
But if the Mavericks control tempo, if this series becomes a game of halfcourt offense, Dallas will win and probably easily.
“We want to run and score in transition,” said Thunder coach Scotty Brooks.
Did you see how the Boomers slew the Grizzlies on Sunday? Durant nailed four 3-pointers by late in the third quarter to blow open the game. Three of his four treys came on possessions of six seconds or less.
Shane Battier and Tony Allen were draped all over Durant, just like always, but you can't drape when you're on offense. And the Thunder scooted the ball so quickly, Memphis was hard-pressed to find Durant, especially with Westbrook on a beeline for the basket.
The Mavs will be hard on Durant. They don't have a Battier or an Allen, but with DeShawn Stevenson, Shawn Marion and Corey Brewer, they have enough quality defenders to harass Durant. And Dallas' team defense is more than solid.
The Thunder must run to open avenues for Durant and James Harden and even Daequan Cook.
“We've kind of changed our personality,” Brooks said. “Early in the year, we weren't shooting a lot of threes.”
Now, the three-ball is a major cog. The Thunder made 47 against Memphis; that's almost seven a game. Many came in transition, when the shooters spread out with Westbrook on his horse, forcing the Grizzlies to choose between a 3-pointer or a Westbrook basket attack.
Almost always, teams will choose the 3-pointer. And an open 3-pointer gives Durant and Harden all kinds of options. Shoot, drive to the basket, pass. The Thunder offense works great in transition. Slowed up, not so much.
Of course, wanting to run and running are two different things. Hard to run off a made basket, and the Mavs have been efficient at making baskets against the Blazers and Lakers, two quality foes.
It's the second straight series the Thunder must acclimate to a different style. Denver played uptempo with penetrating point guards. Memphis pounded inside, like a football team.
Now comes Dallas, with precision passing and great shooting and a bunch of guys who absolutely know what they're doing.
“It's going to be a big adjustment,” Durant said. “We gotta scramble and play hard.”
Get ready for it. The Mavs will frustrate the Thunder. The Mavs will make the Thunder look foolish at times. Will cause turnovers and bad shots and defensive lapses, all by their savviness.
But the Thunder will make the Mavs look old. Tired. Worn out. In need of a makeover. Whoever snaps back more quickly from such malaise will win the series.
Big Kendrick Perkins, whose value in this series lessens after neutralizing Memphis center Marc Gasol, played on the Celtics' 2008 NBA title team, which was considered old itself and had to fight off young legs.
The notion of young vs. old turned the Thunder center introspective. He talked of a text he got the other day from his Celtic coach, Doc Rivers. “Something like, a champion keeps going, know matter how many times he gets hit,” Perk said. “Keep moving, keep taking punches. As long as we don't get knocked out, we'll be good.”
Keep moving was the best part of that advice. Keep moving and moving fast, Thunder. It's your best chance to beat the Mavs.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.