RUSSELL WESTBROOK VS. JASON KIDD
ANALYSIS: Westbrook could run circles around the 39-year-old Kidd. But Kidd could make the 23-year-old Westbrook look silly with savvy. It's a matchup of old versus young, experience versus inexperience and wisdom versus world-class athleticism. Both will have their moments. Westbrook will have many more. But don't expect to see Kidd covering Westbrook much. Look for Dallas to protect its aging point guard by allowing him to cover Thabo Sefolosha.
THABO SEFOLOSHA VS. DELONTE WEST
ANALYSIS: On paper, this is probably the least sexy matchup. But on the court, it could be one of the most compelling. Both are bulldog defenders, and West has a dangerous offensive repertoire to match. He might just be Dallas' X-factor. West likely will spend much of his time defending Westbrook, but Sefolosha will be responsible for slowing West. To match West's all-around production, Sefolosha must knock down open shots. But because Sefolosha made just 4-of-26 3-pointers in last year's postseason, we're not so sure he's ready to do that.
KEVIN DURANT VS. SHAWN MARION
ANALYSIS: Marion did a fabulous job defending Durant in last year's playoffs. According to NBA.com/stats, Durant scored just 20.1 points on 38 percent shooting per 36 minutes while Marion was on the court compared to 28.9 points on 55 percent shooting per 36 minutes while Marion was on the bench. But there's a reason Durant has won three straight scoring titles. He'll keep coming and coming, and the question is whether the 33-year-old Marion can still keep up. We don't think he can. And in the unlikely event that Marion does, Durant can now burn defenses by making plays for others.
SERGE IBAKA VS. DIRK NOWITZKI
ANALYSIS: Nowitzki was a nightmare matchup for Ibaka in the playoffs last year. But Ibaka seemed to learn from it and showed this season that he's made strides against Nowitzki. Ibaka still has a tendency to allow Nowitzki too much space and bite on his pump fakes, so there still could be some rough stretches. On the other end, Nowitzki has little to worry about with Ibaka aside from the occasional midrange jumper. Expect the Mavs to try to exploit this matchup.
KENDRICK PERKINS VS. BRENDAN HAYWOOD
ANALYSIS: Two defensive-minded centers won't put much pressure on each other with their offense. To make an impact, they'll both have to find other ways to contribute. Rebounding and shot-blocking are two ways each can help. But with his screen-setting ability and defensive versatility — Perk has defended Nowitzki in stretches — Perkins seemingly has an advantage. Haywood also is a liability at the foul line, connecting on just 46.9 percent during the regular season.
JAMES HARDEN VS. JASON TERRY
ANALYSIS: They're two of the best in the business at their roles. Terry is more of a scorer off the bench. Harden can do a little of everything. It's Harden's versatility that gives him the advantage. Harden averaged six rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.2 steals along with 14.4 points against Dallas in the playoffs last year. Terry averaged just 1.6 rebounds, two assists and 1.4 steals to go with his 15.4 points in the five-game series with the Thunder.
ANALYSIS: For the Thunder, it's Harden, Derek Fisher and Daequan Cook. For the Mavs, it's Terry, Rodrigue Beaubois and Vince Carter. Of that group, Beaubois is the biggest wild card. He can heat up in a hurry and, if hot, could make Thunder fans have flashbacks to J.J. Barea last season. But inconsistency has been an issue with Beaubois. He's averaging a career-high 8.9 points but is shooting just 42 percent. Harden's versatility, Fisher's experience and Cook's sharpshooting should be enough to give the Thunder the advantage.
NICK COLLISON/NAZR MOHAMMED VS. BRANDAN WRIGHT/IAN MAHINMI
ANALYSIS: Brandan Wright and Ian Mahinmi have youth and athleticism on their side, which actually could give the Thunder fits. But Nick Collison and Nazr Mohammed have enough brains and brawn to possibly tilt the edge in the Thunder's favor. To fully capitalize on their advantage, though, Mohammed and Collison must be able to hit open jumpers and win the battle on the boards. Mahinmi and Wright are both solid offensive rebounders, and the Thunder can't allow second-chance points to the Mavs.
ANALYSIS: Carlisle has an NBA championship, two additional trips to the conference finals, six 50-win seasons and nearly 500 career victories under his belt. Brooks is gearing up for just his third postseason. Game 1 on Saturday will be Carlisle's 100th playoff game. It will be Brooks' 24th. So there's no doubt which coach has the advantage from an experience standpoint. But Carlisle also is considered a mastermind strategist whose schemes can change entire series'. Brooks will have his hands full.
CHESAPEAKE ENERGY ARENA VS. AMERICAN AIRLINES CENTER
ANALYSIS: The Thunder went 26-7 at home. The Mavs went 23-10. Both won on each other's court in last year's Western Conference Finals, but Dallas is a much different team from a year ago. The Mavs finished the regular season just 13-20 on the road and lost twice in OKC, albeit by a combined six points. The Thunder, meanwhile, notched a nine-point win in Dallas in early February.
ANALYSIS: The truth is neither team finished the season strong. Both limped into the postseason having lost seven of their final 14 games. Against playoff teams in that stretch, the Thunder went 0-7 and the Mavs went 1-6. Dallas lost four games by a combined 13 points, though, and three of those defeats were in overtime, two coming on the road against playoff teams. The Thunder appeared to mentally check out of the season during the home stretch, going 3-3 at home in the final six while struggling mightily to maintain a defensive disposition.
ANALYSIS: The addition of Derek Fisher on the Thunder, coupled with the loss of Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea, DeShawn Stevenson and Caron Butler for the Mavericks, has helped Oklahoma City narrow the game in overall playoff games played by both rosters. The total now is Mavs 634, Thunder 557. OKC's figure includes Eric Maynor, who is lost for the season. Take away his 23 playoff games and the Thunder trails Dallas by an even 100 games. Nearly 70 percent of the Mavs' playoff experience is found in four players: Terry (83), Marion (92), Nowitzki (124) and Kidd (142). Fortunately for Dallas, that's the foursome that will be relied upon to take the Mavs as far as they can go.