DALLAS — Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan have been through so many playoff series, they would be good sources to discuss the prevailing themes in the Western Conference finals, like how valuable experience is at this stage and whether there's such thing as too much rest between rounds.
Only, Bryant and Duncan aren't around. For just the second time since 1998, neither the Lakers nor the Spurs will represent the West in the NBA finals.
Instead, it'll either be Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd and the aging-but-rested Dallas Mavericks, or Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the rapidly maturing Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Mavericks are a collection of 30-somethings bonded by a collective pursuit of their first championship. They have plenty of guys who've come close to a title, including a few holdovers from the 2006 team that interrupted the collection of conference titles piled up by the Spurs and Lakers.
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With strong defense and so many scoring options they never know who'll share top billing with Nowitzki, Dallas swept the two-time defending champion Lakers in the second round. The reward was a nine-day wait for Game 1 on tonight.
Or maybe that was a punishment.
"That's a looong layoff," Mavs center Tyson Chandler said Monday. "Yesterday, the scrimmage got a little chippy, so it was obvious we were ready to play somebody else."
Dallas had to keep waiting because the Thunder had its hands full with the Memphis Grizzlies.
Oklahoma City went the full seven games and then some, playing three overtimes in one game and one extra period in another. While most clubs would've wanted some down time, the Thunder might be the exception. With their age and exuberance, a lone day off between series may have felt like an eternity.
"We have a young, energetic, athletic team that loves to play and wants to play every night," coach Scott Brooks said. "We're excited about being in the position that we are in. We're not 'just happy to be here' and just 'whatever happens happens." '
Without the Lakers, and with the Eastern Conference finals featuring the newly crowned MVP and newly crowned Coach of the Year against the glitzy guys from South Beach, this series could be considered the undercard. Having clubs located 200 miles apart in the south, central part of the country certainly doesn't bode well for television ratings.
Although no Mavericks have won a title, nearly all of them have deep reservoirs of big-game experience. The Thunder have few guys who've ever been this close to a title, but they have two guys with rings: center Kendrick Perkins (2008, Boston) and his backup, Nazr Mohammed ('05, Spurs).
"We've got to put them in position they haven't been in to be able to use that wisdom," Kidd said. "If you don't, they're just as talented as any team left in the playoffs."
And all eyes will be on how each team covers the other's superstar.
Shawn Marion will start against Durant, the league's two-time reigning scoring champion, and will get help from Nowitzki and others — perhaps even Kidd, who often covered Bryant last round. Carlisle won't expect Kidd to stay with the speedy Westbrook.
"We've got to build a wall on him," Chandler said. "It's not about one guy stopping him. It's about our team slowing him down."
Oklahoma City will start Serge Ibaka against Nowitzki, with Perkins, Mohammed, Durant, Nick Collison and James Harden among those who also may take turns against the big German.
"We have our work cut out for us," Durant said, "but it should be fun."