#1 Seed Oklahoma City Thunder vs. #5 Seed Dallas Mavericks

Tariq’s Outlook and Prediction

Season Series: OKC 3-1

In a series between two legitimate MVP candidates Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Luka Doncic, this series could be just as much about everyone surrounding them. The Thunder rolled through New Orleans in a sweep and really only had one game where there was real trouble. Jalen Williams and Chet Holmgren have been phenomenal this season, and are case studies that progression can be linear. While on the other side, Kyrie Irving is one of the most proven guards of his generation and is a masterful offensive talent. There’s more variety now than earlier in the season when these teams played, now having PJ Washington and Daniel Gafford. Who guards Luka? Kyrie? You have options between Lu Dort, J Dub, Shai, and Cason Wallace off the bench. Who guards Shai? J Dub?

Last series the Mavs backcourt was locked in defensively, they’ll need to carry that mindset. At the same time, PJ Washington found himself guarding James Harden a ton. Chet could have his definitive coming out party going up against the guys in the Mavs frontcourt. A guy who has gone under the radar, Josh Giddey, has the talent to be the flip player for this series. We know what to expect from Luka, Shai, Kyrie, J Dub, Chet, and even Dort, but Giddey could very well be the swing factor. Shai and Luka are both young stars in this league but are seen to be in different tiers at this very moment. By the end of this series, SGA could be cementing his name in the conversation for the best guard in the league, and have a real, legitimate case for it. This feels like a star matchup we will see for years to come, so who gets the upper hand first? 

X-Factors: PJ Washington, Josh Giddey

Prediction: OKC Thunder in 7 games.