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Can the Thunder slow down Dirk Nowitzki?

May 16, 2011, 7:16 PM EDT

Dallas Mavericks Nowitzki celebrates hitting a three-point shot in the second half against the Los Angeles Lakers during Game 3 of the NBA Western Conference semi-final basketball playoff in Dallas Reuters

He has been the best player in the playoffs so far —26.5 points per game on 49.7 percent shooting, 60 percent from three. He destroyed Pau Gasol in the second round.

And outside of hiring Jeff Gillooly, there may not be a good way for the Oklahoma City Thunder to slow down Dirk Nowitzki. Not that there really is a way to stop a seven-footer shooting one-legged rainbow fadeaways, but the Thunder are not well equipped to do the things that would slow him down.

During the two regular season meetings between these teams when Nowitzki played, Jeff Green got a lot of time defending Dirk. That didn’t really work. This season, when Dirk was on the floor against the Thunder, the Mavericks offensive rating was a ridiculous 131.7 points per 100 possession, as reported by our own Rob Mahoney pointed out at his Mavericks blog The Two Man Game. (For comparison, Denver had he best offense in the NBA this past season at 112.3 points per 100.) That’s not all Dirk, but the Thunder need to slow him down.

Expect Serge Ibaka to get the first shot Dirk, but he may end up in fast foul trouble if not ineffective. Serge wants to block shots, be aggressive. Nowitzki will throw a series of jab steps, head fakes and get the eager Ibaka off balance, then take advantage.

After that, look for Nick Collison, who had a better series against Zach Randolph than Ibaka did. Collison is physical enough to push Dirk out of his favorite spaces, but Nowitzki also has a lot more weapons at his disposal and better range than Randolph.

The stats guys at ESPN proposed three things the Thunder can do to slow Dirk: 1) Pressure him all the way out to the arc, don’t give him an easy inch of ground to work with; 2) Double him but only when Peja Stojakovic and other great outside shooters are not on the floor; 3) Don’t foul him.

And all that might not be enough.

It’s overly simplistic to have the Mavericks/Thunder series boil down to Durant vs. Nowitzki. A lot more will go into this series. But whoever’s superstar can be more consistent gives his team a big advantage.

And Mahoney adds that may well be the Mavs.

What does is the fact that Nowitzki has more easily initiated ways to attack defenders (low post, high post, iso on the wing, pick-and-roll, pick-and-pop) than Durant. KD’s alleged troubles to get open and receive passes are very real; he may be one of the most brilliant scorers in the league, but against heavy defensive pressure, his touches can be limited. He’s more susceptible to double-teams. His influence can be hindered by encouraging Russell Westbrook to shoot. Dallas simply has more avenues to derail Durant than OKC does to limit Nowitzki, a point which gets lost in the Durant vs. Marion and Nowitzki vs. Ibaka framework.

  1. SmackSaw - May 16, 2011 at 7:29 PM

    Dirk and Kidd are on a mission. I hate to say it, but the Mavs are going all the way.

  2. andrejohnsonforpresident - May 16, 2011 at 8:39 PM

    I remember talking to a few buddies back a few years ago about dirk. I said how do you stop a 7 foot fade away?? Answer is you don’t haha. He’s a dang good player thank god he’s not very athletic because he could be a top 10 player in history. With that said the guys still a monster and a match up nightmare. Honestly though i’d let him get all the points he wanted and try to focus on the other 4 players fully. The guy has to get tired eventually and I could never see him breaking 50 points. I think the thunder have a good shot at winning this if they can shut everyone down around him.

    • jjared1101 - May 16, 2011 at 11:29 PM

      Well… Dirk has already dropped 50 points in a western conference final game before, however, your idea of focusing on others isn’t all that bad. Letting Dirk get his 30-40 pts and make Jason Terry, Jason Kidd, and others work for contested shots is good strategy. As good as Dirk is, he doesn’t have a second option that can take over a game by themselves. If you’re guarding Dirk hard or giving him attention, that’s when JET, Kidd, and Peja are going to make you pay with wide open threes. As a Mavs fan, i hope this isn’t the case.

      On the other hand, it’s the second unit for Dallas that has been winning them games this year. I love OKC’s entire roster, but they aren’t as efficient and can get out of rhythm a lot with the second unit. So that’s where they’ll need to do their damage. Starters for both squads is almost a wash, but if OCK’s bench plays really well, they have a good shot.

      Watching the Memphis/OKC series made me not want to see either team go against my Mavs, but like a million people have already mentioned, Westbrook’s tendency to sometimes try to take over could hurt them. Dallas is a veteran ball club, so they’ll make you pay for not executing on a regular basis. But, if he plays like he did game 7, i can’t see how my Mavs can match them.

      Should be a fantastic series either way, and should OKC advance past Dallas, they’ll have my rooting interest. But, i hope they have to wait for another year to get there. My man Dirk deserves a ring (along with Kidd and Marion), so I hope he can get it done this year. Could be his last chance.

  3. andrejohnsonforpresident - May 17, 2011 at 3:17 AM

    Yea I almost feel like thats what the bulls did to the heat. They let Bosh score all night and played hard defense on lebron an d-wade

  4. jolink653 - May 17, 2011 at 10:52 AM

    same thing the pistons did to the lakers when they played them in the finals don’t worry about shaq n shut everyone else around him down…unless dirk is planning on scoring 80 points each game i think that should be the strategy neutralize chandler underneath n take away the easy 3s n the thunder should have a very good chance of winning this series

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