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NBA Second Round Preview: Dallas Mavericks Vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

As the NBA playoffs continue, there is no shortage of entertaining basketball being played. In the Western Conference, the matchups become more interesting in the second round. Facing each other in the top of the bracket is the 1-seed Oklahoma City Thunder (57-25 record) against the 5-seed Dallas Mavericks (50-32 record) with a trip to the Western Conference Finals on the line.

The Thunder are coming into this matchup after their first round sweep against the New Orleans Pelicans. They won the series pretty soundly, looking like one of the best teams in the conference. Leading Oklahoma City is point guard, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (SHAY Gil-juss Al-eck-zan-der). In the first round he averaged 27.3 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 5.0 assists per game. He has been a big part of the Thunder's success, and will give any team they match up with a problem in the playoffs. Center Chet Holmgren (HOME-Gren) is the man in the middle, who presents size at his position. The 7' 1" rookie averaged 15.3 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks per game. Holmgren has been a great option next to Alexander, but they have relied on the others around those two as well. The Thunder's third option for scoring has come from Jalen Williams, who has stepped up in the playoffs. Nicknamed "J-Dub", he averaged 21.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists, and 1.8 steals per game in the first round. J-Dub will be an x-factor in a series where the Thunder will be tested.

Oklahoma City can do it on both ends of the floor, and they present a lot that makes them a contender. They rank in the top 5 of the league in both offense and defense during the regular season, finishing 3rd and 4th respectively. The Thunder offense ranks third behind the Celtics and Pacers, with a rating of 118.3. On defense, they were fourth behind the Timberwolves and Celtics, with a rating of 111.0 in the regular season. The primary defender for the OKC is Luguentz Dort (LOO-gents DORT), who will give the best offensive players trouble. He averaged 11.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 0.8 steals per game in the first round. The Thunder have their share of struggles, specifically on rebounding. They finished 28th in the league during the regular season in rebounding percentage at 48.4%. OKC is also the youngest team in the playoffs, and youngest one-seed in NBA history. Their average age is 23.4, which could affect them in a few different ways. They could come out with a lot of high energy in a series, making it harder for their opponents to keep up with them. However, the Thunder lack playoff experience, which could negatively impact them when they face a team like the Dallas Mavericks.

The Mavericks are fresh off a series win against the Los Angeles Clippers, where they won in six games (4-2). The star for them is another MVP contender, Luka Doncic (LOO-Kuh Don-CHITCH). He struggled in the first round for a multitude of reasons, but still managed to impact the series. Doncic averaged 29.8 points, 9.5 assists, and 8.8 rebounds, but he is being held back by an injury. He has been playing with a sprained right knee, which he suffered during the first round. If he overcomes this injury with the rest he's been given, Doncic could be a problem for OKC. His partner in crime is super star Kyrie Irving, who has made up for Doncic not playing at his full potential. He averaged 26.5 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 1.8 steals per game against the Clippers. Irving looks like he is playing his best basketball so far in the postseason, and is also a key leader in the locker room. An x-factor for the Mavericks is PJ Washington Jr., who has flourished ever since being traded to the team. He averaged 10.8 points, 1.5 steals, and 1.2 blocks per game, showing he can impact both ends of the floor.

Daniel Gafford is a key piece for this series, who can take advantage against the Thunder's post defense. He only averaged 6.2 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 0.8 blocks in the first round, but should be more of a factor against OKC. He was acquired at the trade deadline from the Washington Wizards, and he's been a perfect fit for the Mavs. 20-year-old rookie center Dereck Lively has stepped up for Dallas, and could also be a key dictator of this series. In the first round he averaged 8.8 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 1.0 blocks per game off the bench. When he enters the game as the tallest player on the floor, it will be up to his teammates to give him the ball for post looks. The Mavs have their share of injuries outside of Doncic, most recently of Maxi Kleber (MAX-E Kle-BUH). He suffered a grade three shoulder dislocation in the series-clinching win against the Clippers, and is out indefinitely for the playoffs. In his absence, Dallas will look to players like Dante Exum, and Tim Hardaway Jr. to make up for his volume of shooting. The Mavs will struggle more on the defensive side without Kleber, but they should be able to make it up on the offensive end.

These two young teams will give fans their share of entertainment, and given the star power in this series, it could stir up a rivalry. The Thunder are aiming to go to the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2016, which none of the players on this roster were apart of. The Dallas Mavericks are trying to go to the Western Finals as well, which they made in 2022. The Mavs have five players who were a part of that team, proving they know what it takes to have playoff success. In what will be a matchup of experience vs youth, and offense vs defense, the real winners of this 6-7 game series will be basketball fans around the world.

The first game of the Dallas Mavericks-Oklahoma City Thunder series is on May 7th, at 6:30 PM PST on TNT.


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