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When the Mavericks upset the top-seeded Phoenix Suns in the second round of the NBA playoffs last week, it was the most shocking thing to come out of Dallas since Kristin Shepard shot J.R. Can they do it again in the Western Conference finals versus the Golden State Warriors?
You can tune in next week to find the answer to that cliffhanger (or maybe the week after if it goes to Game 7), but you'll want to watch the entire show starting with Game 1 tonight. The Mavs are +185 at BetMGM to win the series and advance to the NBA Finals.
A changing of the guard
Make no mistake about it, Luka Doncic is the best player in this matchup. If the Suns’ Mikal Bridges couldn’t stop him, no one on Golden State has a prayer. Draymond Green is probably their best shot, but Steve Kerr likes to keep him closer to the paint where he excels as a help defender.
Doncic is averaging 31.5 points and 10.1 rebounds per game, to go along with 6.6 assists in these playoffs. But this team is much more than Luka.
The postseason emergence of Jalen Brunson (22.9 ppg) has Brunson’s pending free agency price skyrocketing while giving Dallas a devastating backcourt combo. Dorian Finney-Smith, Reggie Bullock, Spencer Dinwiddie, Maxi Kleber, and Davis Bertans are a combined 141-of-334 from beyond the arc in the playoffs for a blistering 42.2%.
The Mavs’ “3-and-D” blueprint is working exceptionally well as opposing defenses are forced to either collapse on Doncic and surrender an open three, or let him school whichever poor guy is trying to guard him. The chaos they create on offense has resulted in Dallas drawing the second-most fouls per play this year (19% of plays). That could come in handy against Golden State, who commit the fourth-most fouls per play (18.9%).
Warriors come out and play
These aren’t your older brother’s Golden State Warriors. Yes, they’re still a force to be reckoned with, but they’re no longer the powerhouse dynasty of a few seasons ago that we can just write into the Finals with a permanent marker.
It’s great to see Klay Thompson back out on the court, but those injuries have taken a toll and he isn’t close to the same defender he used to be. Jordan Poole’s long-distance sharpshooting has granted him membership into the Splash Brothers’ fraternity, but he’s also a turnstile on defense. As for Stephen Curry? Well, he’s still Stephen Curry.
In games versus the Mavs this season, the three Splash Brothers performed well below their scoring averages, with Curry averaging 20 ppg, Thompson 15.5 ppg, and Poole 12.5 ppg. Curry and Poole both shot under 30% from downtown against the league's third-best three-point defense.
The two teams are similar in that they both play great defense and they both bomb a ton of threes. Golden State’s defense will take a bit of a hit with Gary Payton II considered a “long shot” to play in the conference finals.
One big difference between the Mavs and Warriors is turnovers. Dallas commits the second-fewest turnovers per game while Golden State commits the second-most. This could play a huge part in this series, with the Warriors turning the ball over even more in the playoffs than they did in the regular season.
I like Dallas’ chances to pull off another upset, especially at their price of +185. The Luka show is just beginning.
Stats provided by Basketball Reference, teamrankings.com, StatMuse, and nba.com.