Before Thursday's finale against the Hawks, when the Mavericks still weren't sure if they would face the Lakers or Thunder in the playoffs, Shawn Marion wouldn't let his mind wander to his next defensive assignment.
"He’s had his hands full all year," Dirk Nowitzki said. "We stuck him on point guards, we stuck him on forwards, we stuck him on 2s, 3s, wherever the best player was he’s out there competing for us. That’s the good thing about him; he can guard multiple positions. He’s fast enough to stay with the small guys but he’s also long enough to bother some of the bigger guys. So yeah, he’s going to be big for us."
On Saturday night, the 6-foot-7 Marion, 10 days removed from his 34th birthday, will employ his long arms and fearless mindset into attacking arguably the longest-limbed and most lethal offensive weapon in the game today in the 6-foot-9 Durant. And don't discount the occasional possession in which Marion's task will shift to explosive point guard Russell Westbrook.
"Oh man, it’s difficult, it’s not easy," Marion said. "Like tonight, I go from from Joe (Johnson) to Josh (Smith) and there’s no telling. You got to do what you got to do."
The 23-year-old Durant just wrapped up his third consecutive scoring title, becoming the first to win it in three years in a row since Michael Jordan. Durant finished this season averaging 28.0 points on a career-best 49.6 shooting.
Durant's numbers against the Mavs and Marion improved this season in four regular-season games, three won by the Thunder. In last year's Western Conference finals, in 163 minutes in which Durant and Marion were on the floor at the same time, the Texas ex scored 91 points on 29-of-76 shooting (38.2 percent), including just 3-of-20 from beyond the 3-point arc. When Marion was on the court, Durant's plus-minus rating was a minus-30. With Marion off the floor, Durant swung to plus-15.
His numbers vastly improved in the four meetings this season. In 125 minutes with both players on the court, Durant scored 82 points on 27-of-57 shooting (47.4 percent), including 6-of-15 on 3s (an area of significant improvement for Durant this season at 38.7 percent). He was plus-4 with Marion on the floor compared to plus-2 with Marion off the court.
"You play to do everything, you play because you love the game. you play to compete," Marion said. "And when you’re a competitor you want to compete, you want to go out there and do what you’ve got to do."