How the Thunder could defend Dirk Nowitzki.
Serge Ibaka: Thunder coach Scott Brooks said his second-year power forward will get the first crack at Nowitzki as the starting power forward opposite Dallas' superstar. But Nowitzki's perimeter-oriented game is a tough challenge for Ibaka, who isn't accustomed to guarding big men on the wing. The biggest test for Ibaka will be to stay down on Nowitzki's pump fakes. If Ibaka doesn't, Nowitzki will get tons of open looks and driving lanes to the basket. Nowitzki also could use his nifty pump fakes to get Ibaka in the air before initiating contact, which would put Ibaka in foul trouble.
Nick Collison: The best defense for Nowitzki just might be sending waves of defenders his way. Collison is expected to be called upon to defend Nowtizki at times throughout this series as well. Look for Collison to get some minutes matched up against Nowitzki late in the first quarter and, depending on how successful he is, in spurts in the second half.
Play small: Kevin Durant acknowledged Monday that the plan is to indeed play a good amount of small ball. That would leave Durant at the power forward spot next to either more than likely Ibaka or Collison at center. This might be the Thunder's best plan of attack. Durant is quick enough, long enough and smart enough to do a decent job on Nowitzki.
How the Mavs could defend Kevin Durant.
Shawn Marion: The Mavericks' starting small forward probably will start out on Durant and try to use his length and athleticism to crowd Durant to disrupt the NBA's scoring champ's rhythm. There was a time when Marion was one of the most versatile defenders in the league because of his athleticism. It helped make him a four-time All-Star. But that time was many moons ago. Today, Marion is a 33-year old shell of his former self. He might have success in spurts against Durant. But we'd be shocked if he's able to sustain it.
DeShawn Stevenson: The Mavs start Stevenson at shooting guard, and it's highly likely that Dallas fires this loose cannon Durant's way a fair amount. Stevenson's game is intimidation and physicality. He'll try to push and shove and hold Durant to make things uncomfortable. But at 6-5, two inches shorter than Marion, Stevenson is no match for Durant's size.
Corey Brewer: If Brewer gets some burn, you know Dallas is in desperation mode. Physically, Brewer might be Dallas' best matchup for Durant. Brewer is 6-9 and a tremendous athlete who uses his length and toughness to stick with Durant. But Brewer isn't in the Mavs' rotation so he isn't likely to be called into duty for anything but emergency purposes.
Zone: The Mavs had success multiple times this season at shutting down the Thunder's offense by switching to a zone defense. Dallas did a terrific job in the three regular season meetings of clogging the paint and making the Thunder shoot jumpers. The defensive scheme forced the Thunder to pass around the perimeter too much looking for seems instead of making its own seems. It took the ball out of Durant's hands and didn't allow him to run off screens or operate in isolations.
How the Mavs could defend Russell Westbrook.
Jason Kidd: Two words. Good luck. Kidd is no match for Westbrook at this point in his career. At 38, Kidd is 16 years older than Westbrook. Kidd no longer has the speed to stay in front of Westbrook. Where Kidd has the advantage is experience. His knowledge of angles could help him limit Westbrook, while his veteran savvy (read: mind games) could frustrate Westbrook.
DeShawn Stevenson: With Thabo Sefolosha as the Thunder's starting shooting guard, opponents have gotten into a habit of protecting their inferior defensive point guards by moving them onto Sefolosha and putting a stronger defender on Westbrook. It won't take long for the Mavs to pull out this option. Stevenson still isn't quick enough to stay in front of Westbrook. But he's a better option than Kidd.
Zone: The Mavs might think a 2-3 zone can keep Westbrook out of the paint. But if they make the switch with that in mind they clearly haven't paid enough attention. Westbrook has matured since the last meeting on Jan. 6. He know attacks zones with dribble penetration to break down defenses and put pressure on opponents. There is no better example of Westbrook's evolution than what he did to Phoenix on March 30. Westbrook dominated the Suns on the road after they switched to a zone. He blew by speedy point guard Aaron Brooks with ease and got to the rim time and time again. It led to an 18-point thumping.