Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Warriors vs. Mavericks playoff preview: Three key questions as Golden State and Dallas meet in West finals

The Golden State Warriors finished off the Memphis Grizzlies in the second round of the playoffs to make it back to the Western Conference finals after a couple of injury-riddled seasons. In many ways it isn’t at all surprising to see the Warriors back here given their deep — finally healthy — roster and championship pedigree. However, the same can’t be said about the opponent they’re about to face in the Dallas Mavericks. Not only did Dallas win its first playoff series since 2011 in the first round against the Utah Jazz, they then knocked off the No. 1-seeded Phoenix Suns in a seven-game series that concluded with a 30-point blowout on the road. No one expected that to happen.

But here we are, and while the Warriors are the clear favorites in this series, given the confidence the Mavericks are playing with right now, it won’t be easy to get past them. Luka Doncic is playing like the best player in the world, and he’s getting significant help from guys like Jalen Brunson, Dorian Finney-Smith and Spencer Dinwiddie. This isn’t a team to just write off, and they’re playing like they have nothing to lose, because as the underdogs, they don’t. 

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However, the Warriors still have their championship core intact with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, and the addition of Jordan Poole makes this team even more dangerous on offense. If the Mavs are going to knock off this juggernaut team, they’ll have to hope they can carry over their play from Game 7 against the Suns.  

It’s going to be a battle between several stars in Doncic, Curry and Thompson, so ahead of Game 1 on Wednesday, here’s everything you need to know about the Western Conference finals matchup.

(3) Golden State Warriors vs. (4) Dallas Mavericks 

  • Game 1 (at GS): Wednesday, May 18 | 9 p.m. ET | TV: TNT
  • Game 2 (at GS): Friday, May 20 | 9 p.m. ET | TV: TNT
  • Game 3 (at DAL): Sunday, May 22 | 9 p.m. ET | TV: TNT
  • Game 4 (at DAL): Tuesday, May 24 | 9 p.m. ET | TV: TNT
  • Game 5* (at GS): Thursday, May 26 | 9 p.m. ET | TV: TNT
  • Game 6* (at DAL): Saturday, May 28 | 9 p.m. ET | TV: TNT
  • Game 7* (at GS): Monday, May 30 | 8 p.m. ET | TV: TNT

*If necessary

1. How does Golden State defend Doncic?

Let’s be honest, “slowing” Doncic from scoring is really out of the question because as we saw in the second round there isn’t much you can do to stop him from putting points on the board. Doncic faced Defensive Player of the Year runner-up Mikal Bridges in the round before this, and torched him by shooting 58.1 percent from the field. So don’t expect the likes of Andrew Wiggins, Draymond Green and whoever else the Warriors decide to throw at Doncic to contain his scoring too much. 

But where the Warriors could take a page out of Phoenix’s book for this series is shutting down everyone else around Doncic and force him to beat you with his scoring. In the three games that the Suns won against the Mavericks, the difference-maker was players like Dorian Finney-Smith, Reggie Bullock and Maxi Kleber not knocking down shots. That was either due to great rotation defense by the Suns, taking away Doncic’s ability to pass it out to the perimeter when he drove to the rim, or just straight up luck. Golden State can’t rely on luck all the time for those three players to miss on wide-open 3s, but it can scheme to take some of Doncic’s would-be assists away. Luckily for the Warriors, they did a pretty good job at disrupting a lot of Doncic’s kick-out passes during the regular season. Like this:

Part of Doncic’s brilliance is his ability to find teammates in the corners when he’s driving to the rim, and the mid-air bailout passes he executes have become a signature part of his game. The Warriors know this, and I imagine that’ll be a main focus in their game plan to make life tough on Doncic. If they can take the paint away from Doncic where he’s at his most versatile as a playmaker, and force him into being a jump shooter, then Golden State will be at an advantage in this series. That is, if it doesn’t allow guys like Jalen Brunson or Spencer Dinwiddie to go off instead. Speaking of which …    

2. Can Dinwiddie remain consistent?

It’s no secret that Dinwiddie’s production has been pretty inconsistent over the course of the playoffs, especially when you hold it against his performance during the regular season. After being traded to Dallas in February, Dinwiddie averaged 15.8 points and shot 49.8 percent from the field and 40 percent from 3-point range. He was performing like his pre-ACL injury self, and a significant reason why the Mavericks were one of the best teams post-All-Star break. But through 13 games in the playoffs so far, he’s averaged 13.2 points, and shot 39 percent from the field, a noticeable dip in efficiency. He’s still shooting 40 percent from long range on over five attempts per game, but on many occasions its been overshadowed by point-blank misses around the rim. 

However, that changed over Dallas’ last two games against the Suns. In what were two win-or-go-home situations for the Mavericks, Dinwiddie averaged 22.5 points while shooting an absurd 72 percent from the field and 71 percent from long range. Expecting him to sustain those kind of shooting numbers is unrealistic, but having him come in the game and get to the rim at will while also knocking down 3s is a best-case scenario for the Mavericks. He’s not going to drop 30 points every night like he did in Game 7 against the Suns, but he needs to provide adequate production off the bench when Doncic is out of the game.

The Warriors are going to do everything possible to try and limit those around Doncic from popping off, so it will be up to Dinwiddie and Brunson to take some of that pressure off him by putting points on the board. We saw in the second round that Doncic alone can’t win many games in the playoffs, so he’ll need his teammates to rise to the occasion to have a chance against a staunch defensive team like the Warriors.    

3. Which version of the Warriors are we getting?

Golden State doesn’t have a ton of conventional weaknesses, and it has enough playoff experience to know how to win games against a myriad of opponents. The Warriors also match up incredibly well against a Mavericks team that also likes to dabble in small ball. But to quote “The Dark Knight Rises,” the Mavericks have merely adopted the dark. The Warriors were born in it, molded by it. Essentially saying, Golden State made small ball cool before anyone else. It’s not difficult to see that the Warriors are the superior team in several ways, but if there’s one weakness that Dallas could glean from Golden State’s second-round matchup against the Grizzlies, it’s the Warriors’ tendency to get really sloppy and stagnant on offense.

In the Warriors’ last two games against Memphis, they averaged 19.5 turnovers. Turning the ball over so frequently is what cost Golden State from closing out a Ja Morant-less Memphis team in Game 5, and it almost happened again in Game 6 until the final five minutes in the fourth quarter. The Warriors have a tendency to try and go for the home-run play every trip down the floor instead of going for a base hit. For years that’s what has made them such a dominant team when Curry and Thompson are drilling transition 3s. But those shots aren’t falling as consistently as they used to. Curry is shooting a playoff career-low 35.9 percent from 3-point territory, and while that would be a quality mark for any number of players in this league, considering he was knocking down those shots at above a 40 percent clip in two out of the Warriors three championship years, you’ll see that his shots aren’t falling quite the same as before. 

That’s not to say that Curry isn’t still a terrifying threat on offense, but if the Warriors begin to get sloppy, which is entirely possible given the Mavericks’ tough defense, Dallas can capitalize on that and gain an edge in this series.   

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