The Oklahoma City Thunder have used a small line-up to strong effect in a few NBA Playoffs game, most notably in a vital second quarter run in the classic Game 4 against the Memphis Grizzlies in the second round. That line-up featured Kevin Durant at power forward, and simply lit Memphis on fire. Scott Brooks went back to the well to more mild but needed success as the series wore on.
SI.com's Zach Lowe did strong work to break down the line-up's success and limits, and he finds that against the Dallas Mavericks, who OKC faces in the Western Conference Finals beginning Tuesday, it's a risky gambit.
There is an undeniable appeal to playing Durant at the power forward, especially in this series. ... [T]here's the conventional wisdom that long and quick small forward types - think Bruce Bowen, Stephen Jackson, Nicolas Batum - can bother Nowitzki enough to make small lineups a legitimate weapon against Dallas.
I'm skeptical. This isn't 2007, Nowitzki has largely figured out the Bowen prototype, and Durant is just not ready to defend Nowitzki - not even in short doses. Dirk would eat him up [...]. The Thunder would be forced to send more help than would otherwise be required. Ask the Lakers what happens when you have to send too much help in Nowitzki's direction.
Kendrick Perkins frankly struggled during the Grizzlies series, not just on offense where he's usually a minus but on defense. So it will likely be Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison -- smaller than even Durant, but experienced and strong -- tasked with stopping Nowitzki.
But when Dirk is out of the game, this small Thunder line-up could do damage, as Shawn Marion (Dallas' starting small forward) will rotate to power forward. His offense is good, but not so spectacular Durant can't keep it in check. Of course, KD needs rest, too, and Brooks may be forced to sit Durant in the normal spans when Nowitzki sits, too. The matchup between the star forwards sets up a real chess match for each possession, let alone the series.
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