Who would have thought that when the Dallas Mavericks played the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round of the 2020 NBA Playoffs, we’d get the rematch so soon?
That series was decided in six games. It featured a game-winner, animosity, aggressive play, fast-paced offense, and everything a modern NBA fan loves about the game. And now, the sequel promises to be just as good as the original.
Los Angeles comes into this series with a 47-25 record and the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference. On the other hand, the Mavericks come into the series with the No. 5 seed and a 42-30 record. In the regular season, these two ball clubs met three times. Dallas won the season series 2-1. In previous seasons this could be viewed as a positive omen, but with the gap between the regular season and postseason growing, it doesn’t guarantee anything for Dallas in the playoffs.
Few experts picked the Mavericks to upset the Clippers in round one, but there is a reason the games are decided on the hardwood. So with the stage set, let’s look at what this series might hold.
What is at stake for Dallas:
The Mavs are searching for their first playoff series win since 2011. Dallas has made the playoffs in 2012, 2014-16, and last season. And with each first-round exit, the pressure only mounts as Mavericks fans await an appearance in the later rounds of the NBA Playoffs.
“I keep getting asked about if there is pressure to advance, hell yeah there is pressure to advance,” head coach Rick Carlisle said. “We are a championship organization. We are not just looking to advance one round in the playoffs.”
Carlisle clearly understands what is at stake for the Mavericks this postseason. He is looking at arguably the most talented roster he’s coached since the championship season in 2011. He’s looking at a Mavericks team that won 20 of 28 games at one point in the regular season and had a post-All-Star break record of 24-14. Dallas is hot. And for the Mavs not to advance in the postseason this year, after last season’s playoff series against the Clippers promised the tangibility of deep playoff success, can be viewed as a disappointment.
As a championship-level organization, there are only a handful of seasons in which the Mavs can be out of the title contention mix. And this postseason offers Dallas a real opportunity to throw its name back into that group.
If Doncic beats the Clippers, he will match Dirk Nowitzki – his European predecessor in Dallas – by winning a playoff series in his third season in the NBA. The already present comparisons would only grow from there. And the already present pressures would only magnify.
The star battle:
Fans get the luxury of watching Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis take on Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
The highest point-scorer in the series is Doncic, who averages 27.7 points per game. Not too far behind Dallas’ superstar point guard is Los Angeles’ Swiss Army Knife Leonard at 24.8 points per game. Expect fireworks between these two mega-stars. Neither is afraid of the big shot. Both can take over a game at a moment’s notice. However, the edge has to go to Leonard, who can command an entire team’s attention offensively, while also being the best defender on the floor.
Following the two headlining acts are Porzingis for Dallas and George for Los Angeles. Porzingis enters these playoffs after another injury-marred season. He averaged 20.1 points per game and 8.9 rebounds during the regular season. In the postseason, he only has three games to his name, but one includes a big 34-point performance against the Clippers last season. George, meanwhile, has 89 playoff games to his name and is a 20 point per game scorer during the postseason.
Porzingis has the ability to swing the series if he can take advantage of defensive switches and dominate his matchup every night. And if he doesn’t, there is no hesitancy in George to take over a game, or the entire series for Los Angeles, if given the chance.
The coaching battle:
This coaching battle is interesting because it features two coaches who have won an NBA Championship as the head coach of a team. Carlisle, obviously, back in 2011, and Tyronn Lue won one in 2016 as the head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Expect each coach to come prepared with a game plan tailored to mitigate the other team’s best strengths.
In the three regular-season meetings, the Mavericks were able to hold Los Angeles’ stars under their averages by using a mixture of screen assignments, one-on-one coverages, and sending high-pressure double teams at the point of attack- i.e. on a Leonard of George dribble drive. Dallas will only ramp up its level of pressure on both creators. The hope is to send multiple looks Los Angeles’ way, making it difficult for them to understand what might happen on a given possession.
From the clippers, Doncic and Porzingis will see a litany of defenders by the time the series is over. How each star responds to the different looks is paramount to Dallas’ success. Porzingis can’t let the Clippers guard him with a small-ball big man. Doncic has to attack going downhill on Marcus Morris Sr., Nicolas Batum, Paul George or Kawhi Leonard.
Final predictions and expectations:
No analyst wants to pick Dallas. But with Doncic on the court, anything feels possible.
This series will come down to who defends at a high level for long stretches and who can convert on key makes from behind the 3-point line. The odds may not be in Dallas’ favor, but they haven’t been all season, and here they are on the cusp of a first-round playoff series. The only question left is if the Mavs can finally advance past round one for the first time in a decade. With the table is set, this series promises to be spectacular.
Game one tips off on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. central standard time.
Feature image via Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports.