The time is now.
Playoff basketball begins tonight.
I’m sorry, Mavericks playoff basketball begins tonight. Big difference there.
Their opponent? The 2nd seeded Los Angeles Clippers, led by Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
We breakdown our first thoughts when the matchup was decided, which team has what advantages, and predict the outcome of the series.
1. What was your first reaction when the first round matchup became official?
Duell: Obviously we all wanted the Mavericks to avoid the Clippers, but I had been mentally prepared for this to be the draw for months now. If Dallas was going to make any sort of “serious” playoff run in their first trip to the postseason in four years, they were going to have to pull an upset somewhere along the way.
This was a season of development and learning for the Mavericks, and they have plenty of opportunity to do just that with a playoff series against a team of playoff-tested veterans like the Clippers. No matter what the final result, this will be an important series for the future of the Mavericks.
Konkle: My first thoughts? Probably something like, “This is bad.”
Mulford: It was something to be expected. Sure, the Nuggets had a shot at surpassing the Clippers but they would’ve needed too much help to ensure that happened. Though, it looked as if Denver wasn’t playing their best lineups in the fourth quarter of the Clippers matchup last week which made me think the Nuggets preferred playing the Jazz over the Mavericks, but who knows.
It’s unfortunate that the Mavs have an opponent as stout and championship ready as the Clippers but it’s also a great postseason experience for a young team, especially for those like Luka and KP who have yet to see a playoff game. Win or lose, this series will help motivate and drive this young Mavs team for the years to come.
2. What do you see as the advantages/disadvantages for each team?
Duell: The Clippers’ ability to flip on a defensive switch whenever they need to is surely an advantage they have over the Mavericks. We saw it in their game in the bubble as the Mavericks offense was able to score pretty efficiently all the way until the final five or six minutes of the fourth when the Clippers ramped it up and emphatically put the game away.
The Mavs have never shown the ability to consistently play good defense throughout the season no matter how much Rick Carlisle preaches that they need to improve on that end. If Dallas is going to pull out a couple of wins in this series, it will definitely be because they score well over 120 points in a game. Against a team that ranks in the top five in offensive rating in the league, it would be very surprising if Dallas suddenly became a “good” defensive team, let alone a juggernaut.
Konkle: The Clippers have advantages basically everywhere. They’re deeper, more physical, more experienced, etc. However, the Mavs advantage comes in the form of a 7 foot 3 inch Unicorn named Kristaps Porzingis. The Clippers don’t have a matchup for him and he needs to play like that. In my opinion, it’s their best chance at making it competitive.
I’d also look for Rick Carlisle to pull some tricks out. He known to get creative and take risks come playoff time, so we’ll see what he has for Doc Rivers.
Mulford: The Clippers are one of the favorites to win it all for a reason. They’re stacked. This team was purposefully constructed to win a championship. Outside of the obvious of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George being advantages, the Clipper bench led by two 6th man of the year candidates in Lou Will and Montrezl Harrell give the Mavericks second unit some big problems.
For Dallas, the answer is KP. Luka will have a rotation of Kawhi, PG, and Pat Beverley on him at all times. Porzingis has played masterfully in the bubble, averaging 30.5 points and 9.5 rebounds. Unless the Clippers decide to put Kawhi on KP, and even then, Porzingis should have the advantage in this matchup. Like how the Lakers do when they play the Clippers, they feed Anthony Davis constantly. That’s how the Mavericks must view this matchup between KP and the Clippers.
3. For this matchup, are there any tweaks to the Mavericks rotation that you’d like to see?
Duell: Mavs Twitter sure loves to complain about Rick Carlisle and who he does/doesn’t play, but I don’t have any gripes with how he handles the minutes. Ultimately, Dallas has two star players it knows it can depend on in Doncic in Porzingis. Everyone else has inconsistencies in their performance and can be up and down from game to game. I would just ask for Carlisle to ride with the hot hand throughout the series. If Michael Kidd-Gilchrist shows that he’s worthy of 25 minutes one night just because he’s locking someone down, let him have it! But don’t keep him out there if his defense on superstars like George and Leonard is limited and he brings virtually nothing on offense.
Konkle: For the most part, I’m fine with the way things are. The Mavericks don’t have all their depth to really be fooling with the rotations.
Mulford: I’ve seen the prospect of giving Michael Kidd Gilchrist some more run to defend the likes of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. I’m fine with that, assuming that takes minutes away from Justin Jackson, who has struggled in Orlando. If MKG can make an impact on the defensive end against the Clippers’ two stars, that’s great. But at what cost on the offensive end? Rick would need to get crafty with who he puts Kidd-Gilchrist on the floor with because of his offensive inability.
And with the Clippers having so much fire power like Kawhi, PG, Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrel, etc., the Mavs will need their bench to show up big. You may need to think about bringing Seth Curry off the bench again just to try and neutralize LA’s bench threat. Seth should be able to eat against the likes of Lou Williams in the second unit. And lastly, making sure one of Luka or KP being on the floor at almost all times will be big for Dallas.
4. Last, what’s your prediction for the series?
Duell: The Clippers are likely going to win this series, but I definitely expect the Mavericks to win a couple games. The game a couple weeks ago between these two teams was obviously concerning as the Clips were able to pull away late, but it is worth noting that the Mavericks were winning in the fourth quarter before Kristaps Porzingis had to catch his breath on the bench at a pivotal point midway through the quarter.
It’s also worth noting that something really unexpected/unprecedented could come up for either side in this series. I’m not going to predict injuries or anything classless like that, but players have been forced to miss games for a variety of reasons throughout the bubble so far. Could someone inexplicably miss a COVID test again? Could someone need to leave the Bubble unexpectedly in the middle of a series? I’m not banking on that, but I would say to not completely rule it out as a possibility as all playoff teams are dealing with these circumstances for the first time.
Konkle: Unfortunately, I think the Clippers are too much. Way too much. I’d love to predict the Mavs making this really competitive and winning a couple games, but I just don’t see it. I’ll take the Clippers in 4 competitive games.
Mulford: Clippers in five. That feels right. This Clippers roster was built to win a championship, period. Can this Mavericks offense make it a competitive five games? No question, but the Clippers know how to finish games down the stretch, on both ends of the floor. The Mavericks, well, they’ve proven to have some trouble doing so this season.
All in all, the Mavericks checked off their goal for the season; make the playoffs. You can tally this season as a success off that alone, on top of the continued rise of Luka Doncic as a superstar in this league with Kristaps Porzingis right alongside him. Dallas has nothing to do but look up from here as the future is very bright.
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