Even without Luka Doncic at the helm for the Mavericks this playoff series has the potential to be a barn-burner. Despite their late season struggles the Jazz still ended the season in the top 10 on both offense and defense, but so did the Mavericks and Dallas seems to be headed in a positive direction. The season record against the Jazz stand at 2-2 all, with both teams taking their respective home games. In such a tightly matched contest what goals can the Mavs set in order to take the series?
Keep Donovan Mitchell out of the game.
In the Mavericks two losses to the Jazz this season Mitchell scored 33 points. The most dangerous part of Donovan Mitchell though is how he got to that total in both winning efforts. In the December 25th game Mitchell was not able to find his 3-point shot and spent the majority of the game aggressively driving into the lane, bouncing off defenders and hitting midrange floaters and hitting 10 of 11 from the charity strip. Two months later on February 25 Mitchell was getting boxed out of his midrange game and retreated to the outside and caught fire, hitting seven 3-pointers en route to a 114-109 Jazz win. After these losses in Utah the Mavericks changed strategies defensively on Mitchell. Jason Kidd started switching both Dorian Finney-Smith and Reggie Bullock on Mitchell. This revolving door of fresh defenders with different styles seemed to fluster Mitchell. In both wins for Dallas, Mitchell averaged only 14.5 points on 28.5% shooting, well under his season average of 25.9 points on 44.8% shooting.
Keep Gobert Frustrated
Rudy Gobert is a sensitive man. There’s nothing particularly wrong with that but he does not seem to be the type of player that gets better when he gets mad. “There were a lot of things being said that wouldn’t be said outside of a basketball court,” Gobert said. “A lot of things that I would never say. I’m not perfect but I don’t say things to guys on the court that I wouldn’t say to their face outside the locker room.” Gobert was clearly flustered in Dallas and managed only 12 points in a matchup against Dwight Powell. Gobert looked removed from the game and was inactive on offense after a few encounters with Tim Hardaway Jr. and Theo Pinson from the Mavericks bench.
Reggie Bullock and/or Dorian Finney-Smith need to get involved early
With Luka Doncic out for at least Game 1, you have to assume that Spencer Dinwiddie and Jalen Brunson are going to be asked to take up as much slack as possible on the offensive side. Both Spencer and Jalen are able to create their own shot at a pretty consistent rate but they will need to get at least one of the 3 and D guys involved early and often to take defensive attention away from them. The Mavericks are 14-2 when DFS has 15+ points and 13-2 when Reggie Bullock achieves the same. That’s not a coincidence. A bonus of getting these two involved on offense is the energy it gives them on the defensive side of the ball as well. Both players have spoken about having more energy on defense. This will also open up the lane for Brunson and Dinwiddie to drive for easy layups and trips to the free throw line.
Let Jalen Brunson Free
Brunson had one of his highest scoring games of the season against Utah (27 points) earlier in the season. He’s a shifty ball handler who can create for himself and others. Most games he’s playing second or even third option to Luka and most recently Dinwiddie. His efficiency is what should make him invaluable during Luka’s absence. Jalen has averaged 19 points vs. Utah this year. That’s above his season average of 15, and his scoring average goes up 5 points when playing without Doncic. This is make or break time for Brunson in Dallas with his contract coming up in the off-season. It’s time to use this situation to his advantage and show his worth.
Take at least 1 game without Luka Doncic
In their last 6 games played without Luka, the Mavericks are 5-1. Without context that record looks pretty great, right? Unfortunately, when you add the context that those wins are against Portland, Houston and Sacramento things seem a little more bleak. The hard truth is this Mavericks squad has struggled without Doncic, a record of 8-9 to be exact. Please for the love Mavrello Ballovic, provide something positive in this section? OK. Post Kristaps Porzingis trade this team has been one of the most clutch teams in the NBA. The Mavericks have more game winning field goals this year than any other team. If the Mavericks can manage to keep the game close it’s hard not to believe that either Spencer Dinwiddie or Dorian Finney-Smith could create some magic of their own even without Luka to wave the wand.
The hope in Dallas is that the Mavericks will only need to play Game 1 without their generational talent on the court. Unfortunately, it is more likely that Luka’s calf injury may linger and even when he returns to the lineup any rational fan could not expect him to be 100% immediately. This situation is exactly the reason Nico Harrison traded Kristaps for a player like Dinwiddie in the first place. The addition of a third ball handler and playmaker (second, in this current situation) still gives the Mavericks a leg up on a Utah Jazz team that is actively imploding. When they work together Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert are hard to beat but much like Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis their potential looks better on paper than on the court. Since January 1, the Jazz are playing below .500 basketball and even without Luka Doncic in the lineup this series belongs to the Mavericks.
Mavericks in 7
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