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Bet on the NBAWhen Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, emptied his NBA championship team in the offseason, allowing Tyson Chandler and JJ Barea to leave in free agency, no one expected the team to come back and really defend their title. The fact that Dirk Nowitzki came into the lockout-shortened season out of shape and mostly content with his one ring was all it took for observers to realize that there would most likely be a new champ in the Western Conference, let alone the NBA as a whole.

No one really expected the Mavericks to get swept by their opponent from last year's Western Conference Finals, the Oklahoma City Thunder. But that is exactly what happened, with the Thunder taking two close games in OKC, then brilliantly outperforming the Mavs in Dallas. It is hard to determine if Dallas was really disappointed in this, however, as it looked as though the Mavericks had squandered a few late-game opportunites to win Games 1 and 2.

It's done, though. The Thunder move on and the Mavericks go home, hoping to acquire some fresh talent in the off-season to bolster their aging roster, centered around Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, and Jason Terry. The young guns from OKC, led by Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden are waiting for the winner of the Lakers-Nuggets series.

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Oklahoma City is one of the heavy favorites in the Western Conference and is predicted to meet the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals. They will have to make it through two tough teams in the Lakers and the Spurs if the top seeds take their series, however, and it is worrying that the Thunder put up some half-hearted, poor shooting efforts at the end of the regular season and in the first two games of the playoffs.

If the Thunder make their jump shots and get a few easy baskets in transition, they have a legitimate shot at winning a title this year, and will be in the basketball gambling news for the next month. But when they go cold, the team seems to degenerate into two stars (Durant and Westbrook) taking turns jacking up poor shots from just inside the arc, a strategy that will not lead to a Finals apperance.

 

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