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OKC Thunder: Sweeping the champs is nice, but tougher challenges are ahead

The Dallas Mavericks were not the Dallas Mavericks of last season. Still, the Thunder showed it has improved over last season and will be better prepared for inevitable playoff adversity.
by Darnell Mayberry Published: May 6, 2012

The Thunder's defense was dialed in and, at times, dominant.

The Thunder got to the free throw line and excelled once there.

The Thunder figured out Dallas' vaunted matchup zone.

The Thunder showed even more road toughness than it did a year ago, when it won a game apiece at Denver, at Memphis and at Dallas in the postseason.

The Thunder, for the most part, turned turnovers into points.

The Thunder, most importantly and most impressively, closed out games.

So many good things should inspire confidence among Thunder players as the playoffs march on.

But there were a few shortcomings that showed up.

For starters, Oklahoma City showed its affinity for the jump shot. The Thunder hoisted 86 3-pointers, a four-game average that, at 21.5, is 1.5 more than its regular season per game total. Fortunately for the Thunder, those jumpers were dropping at a 38.1 percent rate. But against better defenses, rims have a way of tightening.

Additionally, the Thunder averaged just 35 points in the paint, a tally that would have ranked third-to-last in the regular season. Only twice against Dallas did the Thunder muster more than 26 paint points.

Secondly, the Thunder's defensive rebounding was suspect. Oklahoma City allowed just 10.5 offensive rebounds per game, 2.2 fewer than its second-to-last ranking in the regular season. But the Mavs were the fourth worst offensive rebounding team in the league at 10.1 per game. Yet Dallas generated 11.3 second-chance points on average in the series. The Lakers are a top-10 offensive rebounding team and could toy with the Thunder on the glass if OKC doesn't shore up things soon.

Lastly, the Thunder's 3-point defense will need some work. Dallas shot 37.1 percent from downtown despite going 12-of-38 (31.6 percent) from 3-point range in the middle two games.

There is still tons of time for the Thunder to button up its issues. The good news for OKC is that even eventual championship teams don't start playing their best ball until the latter rounds.

That seems to be when we'll get the true sense of how far this Thunder team can go.