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OKC Thunder: How will the Thunder fare against Dirk Nowitzki?

The Thunder had no luck no matter who guarded Dirk Nowitzki last year; will these playoffs be any different?
BY JOHN ROHDE, Staff Writer, jrohde@opubco.com Published: April 27, 2012

“Everybody,” Brooks said, forcing a smile. “The whole team will be going to him.”

Ibaka, who led the league in blocked shots with 241 this season, will start out defending Nowitzki.

After that will come Collison, perhaps Perkins at times, but preferably not Durant.

“I like Kevin guarding the other guy,” Brooks said, meaning anybody but Nowitzki in hopes of avoiding foul trouble for Durant, the NBA's three-time scoring champ. “Dirk is strong. He doesn't look strong, but he's strong. He has a wide base he has great footwork and his balance is the best in the league.

“He shoots awkward shots that you think don't have a chance of going in. You're contesting it, your fingertips are right at the ball and it still goes in. Kevin might get an opportunity to guard him, but not much. We'll throw other guys on him.”

Durant did all he could to counter Nowitzki's heroics in Game 1, scoring 40 points (on 18 field-goals attempts), going 18 for 19 from the line and adding eight rebounds, five assists, two blocks and a steal, which still weren't enough as Dallas won the opener 121-112 at American Airlines Center.

Asked about Nowitzki, Durant said the Thunder did a better job defending him after that first game. Then again, could it have gotten much worse?

“He's a tough cover,” Durant said. “He's getting better every single year. The shots that he makes sometimes, you can't get discouraged.”

Easier said than done.

Even someone like Collison, who is as fundamentally sound and intellectually sharp as defenders come, shakes his head while discussing Nowitzki, who went on to become MVP of last year's NBA Finals triumph against the Miami Heat.

“The thing we struggle with is when he's in a pick-and-roll,” Collison said. “You still have to do your job and help, get a (defensive) shell, slow the ballhandler down and then run back to Dirk.

“When you're guarding Dirk, you're so concerned about him that sometimes you want to stick to him and not do the other things, so you have to avoid that. You have to trust that you can get back and guard him. I think that's the biggest adjustment. We have to fix what we struggle with.”


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