Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
Which of these teams is less likely to win the Western Conference title: Dallas or Oklahoma City?
David Aldridge: Right now, OKC. The defense has dipped from last season. But they’re capable of playing at that level again. Dallas has all the pieces and with a little luck in the postseason (like avoiding the Spurs or Lakers until the conference finals) I could see the Mavs breaking through.
Steve Aschburner: Win the West this year? Had to ask because of the difference in these squad’s average age. The Thunder’s future is brighter, obviously, but for this spring, I like Dallas’ chances better. The Mavericks play better defense, they play at a pace more suited to the postseason, they seem to have closed ranks to survive Caron Butler’s absence and their top players are thoroughly battle-tested. There’s something to be said, too, for the urgency of knowing that your window of opportunity is closing.
Fran Blinebury: Oklahoma City. For all of the youth and excitement that continues to buzz around the Thunder, their defense has taken a step back this season and they still turn into a team of jump-shooters down the stretch. The next step comes when they learn to get Kevin Durant the ball in scoring position near the basket late in games.
Art Garcia: Love how the potential is being realized with the Thunder, but it’s still more potential than reality. I’d take this roster over any in the league because of what can happen over the next decade, but OKC isn’t ready to go all the way in 2011. As hard as the Thunder compete and as far as they’ve come, Scott Brooks is the first to tell you they’ve got so much more to learn. As for the Mavericks, provided Peja Stojakovic has something left and/or Mark Cuban adds more at the deadline, they’ve got a legit shot against the Lakers, Spurs or anyone else in the West.
Scott Howard-Cooper: This season? Oklahoma City. The Thunder are on 53-win pace, which would be a three-game improvement from last season, but that’s different from actually being better. The backslide on defense is obvious and, even within the locker room, perplexing. They have spent much of the first half in the 20s in shooting defense. The Mavericks are around the top 10 in the same category and have an efficient offense. The loss of Caron Butler obviously hurts. But Dallas is more likely, between the two, for the conference crown.
Shaun Powell: The Thunder won’t surprise people the way they did last year, so my pick is OKC being less likely. Not only do the Mavericks have a star, they’re deep and experienced, unlike the Thundies. Oklahoma City might regret the decision to pass on signing a free agent last summer, when they had the money. They’re one player away from being a serious title contender. Can you imagine Amar’e or Boozer on that front line instead of Collison? I know KD can.
John Schuhmann: Oklahoma City. They’re simply not good enough defensively this season. The Thunder have been more potent offensively, but Dallas ranks in the top 10 on both ends. Oklahoma City is actually a below average defensive team – which is maybe one of the biggest surprises of the season, by the way – and have been fortunate enough to win a lot of close games. They’re record is a little inflated in that respect, yet they’re still three games behind the Mavs, who were without their best player for a nine-game stretch. I don’t think either has much of a shot of beating the Lakers or Spurs unless they pull off a deal before the deadline, but if I had to choose one, I’d take the Mavs.
Sekou Smith: As much as I love what‘s going on in Oklahoma City, history tells me that the Thunder will have a much tougher path to the Western Conference crown than a seasoned outfit like the Mavericks. The Thunder’s hole in the middle is still to easy to locate for the opposition. In a seven-game series that’s a fatal flaw that a championship contender will exploit. When the Thunder has the experience to match their talent, desire and excellent chemistry, the rest of the West better buckle up for an extended ride on the Thunder express. But until then we’ll have to settle for being wildly entertained by their attempts to challenge for that top spot.