DALLAS – For the most part, the Mavericks have done a decent job executing their defensive strategy on Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook.
He’s lit them up anyway, averaging 28.5 points on 52.3 percent shooting in the first two games of this series.
The question now is whether the Mavs make significant strategic adjustments or just hope Westbrook stops making so many midrange jump shots.
According to NBA.com’s advanced statistics, Westbrook is 14-of-26 on midrange jumpers in the series and only 5-of-11 on shots from inside the restricted area. By comparison, Westbrook shot 41.4 percent from midrange and 58.6 percent from inside the restricted area during the regular season, attempting virtually the same amount of shots from the two zones.
“You’ve got to pick your poison,” said Delonte West, who has started both games on Westbrook. “He’s got an explosive first step. He’s not an All-Star for no reason. Based on the past, you can live with him shooting contested jump shots. What you don’t want to do is open up the lane and give him driving lanes where he can score, pass, get fouled and get some momentum plays.
“I’ll guess we’ll live and die with contested jump shots.”
The problem is it’s tough for a guard like West or Jason Kidd to contest Westbrook’s shot because the freakishly athletic 23-year-old gets up so high. As expected, coach Rick Carlisle is playing any potential adjustments close to the vest, but he acknowledges that one possibility is using 6-foot-7 defensive stopper Shawn Marion on Westbrook more often.
That, of course, would open up a whole other set of problems with NBA scoring leader Kevin Durant, who the Mavs have held to 34.1 percent shooting in the series with Marion doing most of the dirty work.
Would Vince Carter start instead of West and defend Durant? Stick with the same lineup and ask Kidd to guard a superstar who is listed at 5 inches taller and 16 years younger?
“We’ve got to find a way to make him a little more uncomfortable,” Dirk Nowitzki said. “He’s just dribbling up and raising up at the foul line. There’s nothing you can do, because if you guard him with smaller guys – with Kidd or West – he jumps like 40 inches on his shot and you can’t touch it. He just raises up over them and gets it in.
“Yeah, it’s tough. But we’ve got to do a better job of making him a little uncomfortable.”
And hope Westbrook reverts to form from midrange.