The Mavericks will make the series entertaining, but the Clippers should prevail. Here's why....
Since they were assembled last offseason, the Los Angeles Clippers had the look of a playoff squad built for May and June.
The Covid-19 delays pushed that back a couple months but, now that we’re here, no more excuses. No more load management of the team’s lethal wings. And hopefully, in Lou Williams’ case, no more hot wings.
But they don’t get a typical easy first-round match-up for a top-2 seed. The Mavericks have an elite superstar, a Unicorn second option, shooting everywhere and a coach in Rick Carlisle who tends to maximize and has history controlling top players when it counts (2011 LeBron James comes to mind).
How do they keep Dallas contained, enough to advance? Here are some thoughts:
Unleash The Claw: After a slow start in the bubble, a rested Kawhi Leonard was astronomically efficient toward the end of the seeding games, finishing with 28.8 points (on 48.5 percent from three-point range) in 34.2 minutes. With Paul George averaging 25.5 points, on 50.0 percent from deep, in 32.8 minutes, and the duo combining for four steals, there’s no comparable wing pairing in the league, and the Clippers never need to be without one. And there’s no answers on Dallas’ roster, which consists of bigs and smalls. Poor Dorian Finney-Smith isn’t gonna get much help unless he’s cloned.
Don’t overplay Luka: The future MVP averaged 30.0 points and 10.0 rebounds in the seeding games, so it’s natural to obsess over him. But, with Leonard or George, Doc Rivers has two better one-on-one answers than anyone else has. The greatest dilemma comes against Dallas when Doncic involves everyone else, and he is averaging 9.7 assists (with his 4.7 turnovers) in Orlando so resist the urge to double too much. That might be more needed on the resurgent Kristaps Porzingis (30.5 ppg), since it’s hard to see how any of the Clippers’ bigs can control him, even with Montrezl Harrell returning. Might see a lot of Marcus Morris still.
Stifle the Supporting Cast: Dallas doesn’t have a lot of spare defenders, but they have snipers everywhere, starting with Seth Curry, the streakier Tim Hardaway Jr., and the who-knew-he-was-a-Maverick Trey Burke. One of them could steal a game, though Pat Beverley is available to agitate.
Our Pick: Clippers in 6. On the surface, it would seem it shouldn’t be this hard. But this sets up as the most entertaining series, with the Mavericks’ late game foibles the reason to stay with L.A. here.