|It's Dirk and KD, round two. (Getty Images)|
Eye on Basketball presents the 2012 NBA playoffs first round series previews. In this edition, the Oklahoma City Thunder and the defending champion Dallas Mavericks.
Dallas: Championship chops. The Mavs do a lot of things well, but they have something the other teams are chasing. They're the champs. They've been through this, they know what it takes and maybe most importantly, they have the self-belief to make it happen again. There's been a feeling watch the Mavs this season that they were just holding out for the postseason. That they only wanted a ticket into the dance, not a great seat. That's what they've got and they drew a tough card in playing the young and hungry Thunder, but this group is built for it. Why? Because they've done it before.
Dallas: Interior defense. One thing to realize: This isn't the same Dallas team that won a championship. Yeah, core pieces are back like Dirk, Jason Terry, Shawn Marion and Rick Carlisle. But gone are J.J. Barea, DeShawn Stevenson and most importantly, Tyson Chandler. Without their stopper in the paint, the Mavs are turned to a combination of Brendan Haywood and Brandan Wright for size inside and while there have been some successes, this just isn't the same defensive club it was a year ago. Last season, that Dallas zone was something to be feared because of Chandler's impact inside. That's not there anymore. The Mavs sealed off Westbrook's lanes to the rim, challenged every and forced him 15 feet away from the basket to get his points. I'm not sure they can take the same approach this time.
Dallas: Delonte West. The Mavs have their own all-world sixth man in Jason Terry, but West's play could be the difference. The Thunder have struggled defending pick-and-roll oriented guards this season like Chris Paul and Tony Parker, and with Jason Kidd not really being in that mold anymore, West could be a major difference. He's skilled in the pick-and-roll, can hit a pullup jumper and is a talented passer. J.J. Barea really hurt OKC last season, and while West isn't quite the same kind of pest, he could do damage in a similar way.
Dallas: Dirk versus anybody. He lumbers around the court almost looking like he's set to fall down at any moment. But that's part of Dirk's incredibly deceptive game. He's got a quicker first step than almost anybody realizes, so if you try and crowd him, he takes you to the rim. The Thunder will try Nick Collison's physical (read: fouling) style, Serge Ibaka's athleticism, Kendrick Perkins's savvy and maybe even Durant's length. None of it worked last season and while the Thunder have defended Dirk pretty well this year -- he's shooting just 44 percent against the Thunder in four games -- he's still Dirk and this is his time of year.
WILL WIN IF...
Dallas: The Mavs can win this series, but they've got to make it ugly. In a lot of ways, the Thunder outplayed Dallas in the Western Finals last season, but the Mavs lived by a simple formula: Keep it close and let Dirk save us at the death.
THE PICK: Thunder in five | Read more expert predicitions