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2022 Western Conference Finals

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

2022 Western Conference Finals Preview: Dallas Mavericks v. Golden State Warriors

2022 Western Conference Finals
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

2022 Western Conference Finals Preview: Dallas Mavericks v. Golden State Warriors

The 2022 Western Conference Finals between the No. 4-seeded Dallas Mavericks and the No. 3 Golden State Warriors tips-off Wednesday at 9:00 p.m. EST on TNT.

This will be their second ever playoff series against one another. The only other time came in the first-round of the 2006-07 playoffs. The 8-seeded Warriors, in their first playoff series in over a decade, upset the top-seeded Mavericks in six games — capped by a 111-86 victory in Game 6 backed by Stephen Jackson’s 33 points and seven 3s.

They were the third-ever 8-seed to beat a one-seed in the first-round. The last time it happened was in 2010-11, when the Grizzlies beat the Spurs.

Okay, now back to modern times.

The Mavericks won three of the four regular season meetings between the two teams, though its only loss came by 38 points (and GSW was without Draymond Green). Its most recent victory over Golden State came on March 3 in a nine-point defeat, 122-113. Luka Doncic was one assist shy of posting a 40-point triple-double, adding 41 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists and two steals on 15-of-26 shooting and 4-of-10 from distance.

Here’s what the 2022 Western Conference Finals schedule looks like:

GAMEDATEMATCHUPTIMETV
Game 1Wednesday, May 18Dallas @ Golden State9:00 p.m. ETTNT
Game 2Friday, May 20Dallas @ Golden State9:00 p.m. ETTNT
Game 3Sunday, May 22Golden State @ Dallas9:00 p.m. ETTNT
Game 4Tuesday, May 24Golden State @ Dallas9:00 p.m. ETTNT
Game 5*Thursday, May 26Dallas @ Golden State9:00 p.m. ETTNT
Game 6*Saturday, May 28Golden State @ Dallas9:00 p.m. ETTNT
Game 7*Monday, May 30Dallas @ Golden State8:00 p.m. ETTNT
* – if necessary

Let’s jump into previewing each team with a couple series questions and concluding with my prediction!

What we know about the Dallas Mavericks:

Notable starters:

  • G: Jalen Brunson
  • G: Reggie Bullock
  • F: Luka Doncic
  • F: Dorian Finney-Smith
  • C: Dwight Powell

Other players in playoff rotation:

  • G: Spencer Dinwiddie
  • F: Maxi Kleber
  • F: Davis Bertans
  • G: Frank Ntilikina

After losing the first two games of the series by 27 combined points…..wait, the Dallas Mavericks won four of the next five to down the top-seeded Phoenix Suns?? And they clinched on the road by 33 points? In Game 7?!?!? Yes, yes, and yes! The Mavericks handed one of the most shocking Game 7 thrashings of my lifetime (I’m 22) to the overwhelming favorite to come out of the West. They did so on the back of physical defense, red-hot 3-point shooting and, well, Luka Doncic. Duh! But in all seriousness, in their four wins, the Mavericks knocked down 42.2 percent of their 40.3 triples while holding the Suns — who had a top-5 offense in the regular season — to 100.8 points per 100 possessions. For the series, Dallas boasted a below-average 112.3 defensive rating, but completely buckled down when they needed to the most. The Mavericks finished the 2021-22 season 14th in offense and 7th in defense. But the steam really picked up at the New Year; they went 35-12 and were 11th in offense plus 4th in defense over that span. They also placed in the top-10 in both 3-point percentage (36.7; 8th) and true-shooting percentage (58.8; 8th) in that time frame as well. Their 2022 Western Conference Finals trip is their first WCF since 2010-11, the year they won their first title in franchise history over the Miami Heat.

What we know about the Golden State Warriors:

Notable starters:

  • G: Stephen Curry
  • G: Klay Thompson
  • F: Andrew Wiggins
  • F: Draymond Green
  • C: Kevon Looney

Other players in playoff rotation:

  • G: Jordan Poole
  • F: Jonathan Kuminga
  • F: Otto Porter Jr.

The Warriors lost three of four to the Denver Nuggets in the regular season and beat them in five games in the first-round; they lost three of four to Memphis in the regular season and beat them — albeit without Ja Morant for the final three games — in six games. Now, they’re up against Dallas, who, as I mentioned above, beat Golden State three of four times in the 2021-22 regular season. The Warriors were toe-to-toe with the Suns at the start of the year before injuries to Green and Curry (at different times) hampered their success. Thompson hasn’t been the same player since returning from multiple ligament tears in his knees. And yet, despite all that, the Warriors still won 53 games and have found their footing as one of the top Western Conference foes once again. If we forget Game 5 from the Memphis series ever happened, the Warriors haven’t lost a game by more than five points since March 28 with half their wins (7) over that stretch coming by double digits. The undersized Dubs were also the second-best defense in the regular season and held opponents to sub-34.0 percent shooting from distance. That’s noteworthy, given who they’re playing against.


Questions:

1.) Who, and more importantly, how do the Warriors defend Luka Doncic?

Speaking of who they’re playing against — Luka Doncic is a #problem. That doesn’t need to be said, written or even thought about if you visibly see what he does on a game-by-game basis. He engineers the league’s most dangerous heliocentric offensive attack. With the ball in his hands, he’ll grate you with an assortment of step-backs and crossovers combined with overwhelming strength to methodically get to his spots inside-the-arc. He won’t play at your pace, he’s going to play at his (a slower pace), and he’ll still make you look like an idiot more often than not. When the ball’s not in his hands, he’s usually rifling skip passes or taking advantage of faulty rotations that eventually lead to open 3s. Doncic is averaging 31.5 points, 10.1 rebounds, 6.6 assists and 1.9 steals in 36.1 minutes per game. He leads his team in total points, rebounds and assists while tied for the team-lead in steals. Oh, and he missed three games. The Warriors, just like every other team that will have to face Doncic in the playoffs for the next decade-plus, will have to orchestrate — and execute — a plan mitigate the inevitable damage he’ll impose. In the regular season, Wiggins defended Doncic most often amongst the team (91.8 partial possessions), per NBA.com’s matchup tracking data. Wiggins held him to 10-of-22 shooting with six 3s at a 50.0 percent clip. But this series screams a “spread the floor out, and we’re going to run pick-and-roll with whomever Curry/Poole is defending to force the switch” game plan. It was the LeBron James formula in the multiple NBA Finals bouts; it was Ja Morant’s formula (when he was healthy) last series; and we all know it’s going to Luka’s formula for time being. My guess is the Warriors try to hedge/show as many of those screens as possible, combined with stunting on the weak-side while also pre-rotating at the nail. Aside from the occasional blitzing, that’s likely their best formula, also having to account for the many shooters Dallas will have spaced on the perimeter. But then again, you can’t expect to give Doncic the same look and expect him to not adjust.

2.) Can the Warriors, once again, win the possession battle?

In my second-round preview, this was a topic of conversation with the Warriors against Memphis, who’s very good at forcing turnovers. Here’s an excerpt of what I wrote:

“Though one glaring Golden State weakness that fits right into Memphis’ hands: Turnovers. Only the Houston Rockets sported a higher turnover rate than Golden State during the regular season. Conversely, the Grizzlies turned opponents over at the fourth-highest clip. Memphis struggled generating offense in the halfcourt in the regular season, registering 93.4 points per 100 halfcourt plays, ranking 22nd, per Cleaning the Glass …  If there’s an overwhelming winner of the possession battle, that team likely wins the series. I think it’ll be close with Golden State ending on top.”

As good as their defense is, the Mavericks don’t force many turnovers (13.7 OPP TOV% – T-14th in reg. season), but are an elite team at taking care of the rock, sporting a top-5 turnover rate. The Warriors are good at forcing mistakes; and as long as they don’t commit their own mind-numbingly bad turnovers — like they did against Memphis — they should have the possession advantage. Every one more than Luka is a (figurative) point in their favor. Dallas isn’t an overly-eager team in seeking transition opportunities, but keeping the ball out Luka’s hands as often as possible is always a plus for the other team, even if that means limiting the times you commit dumb mistakes.

Prediction: Warriors in 7

Generally-speaking, extraordinarily high usage players don’t have a great track record of sustainability in the postseason. Doncic could seemingly defy those odds like he has somewhat already, but I don’t think that happens this series. Golden State’s size worries me a little bit because you can’t lack size against Doncic and expect to get away with it. But I believe Golden State’s rapid motion offense will ultimately be too much in the end for Doncic, Jalen Brunson and Co.

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