The Los Angeles Clippers and the Dallas Mavericks will meet once again in the first round of the playoffs, but this time as the fourth and fifth seeds. It seems as though the Mavs and Luka Doncic have improved over the course of the season.
The Clippers, meanwhile, have strayed away from elite status by just a few notches.
However, most analysts are in agreement that the Clippers are still the better team. They are more experienced while the Mavs can be considered as a team still looking for their identity.
Despite this, the Clippers should not take the Mavericks lightly. Containing Luka Doncic is the most important element of beating the Mavs squad.
A closer look at the match-up reveals that the Clippers need to iron out all the details in their game plan to win the series and advance to the next round.
Clippers Keys: Test Luka’s Patience
Doncic has developed a reputation for being a hothead. Over the course of the regular season, he amassed a total of 16 technical fouls for second in the league behind Dwight Howard (17). The Slovenian has said time and time again that he will work on controlling his emotions. Yet so far, things haven’t really panned out for him.
This will likely be in the Clippers’ scouting report on him. The top priority would be to get his hands off the ball as much as possible. He’s the orchestrator of the Mavs’ offense as well as its centerpiece. So expect the Mavs’ defensive trio of Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and Patrick Beverley to switch on him multiple times. And when Beverley is on him, don’t be surprised if he loses his cool.
Contain Porzingis and Tim Hardaway Jr. to minimize Doncic’s playmaking production
A good part of the Mavs’ relative success this season is due to the stellar play of Kristaps Porzingis and Tim Hardaway Jr. Porzingis has always been tagged as the second star behind Doncic. While he hasn’t put up superstar numbers, he’s still an important part of the offense who’s an automatic 20 points per night. Not to mention his ability to space the floor given his smooth stroke from anywhere. The same is true for Hardaway Jr. who’s made a living off wide-open 3-pointers and well-timed cuts to the hoop.
These are all critical elements that need to be in the Clippers’ scouting report. The Mavs have developed into a pretty good team will a solid core group. As such, even if they take Doncic out of the picture (which is close to impossible), the Mavs’ offensive machinery will continue to work.
Yes, the Clippers are definitely favored in this series. But if they want to win, then it is imperative to cross their T’s and dot their I’s.
Abuse Luka and the Mavs’ Defense
The Mavs’ malleable defense has been the talk of the town for most of the regular season. They rank 21st among 30 NBA teams with a defensive rating of 112.3. As gifted as Doncic is on the offensive side of the floor, his immobility is a liability on defense. No doubt he has improved on this aspect. But he’s still susceptible to being abused.
The same is true for Kristaps Porzingis. He stands 7-foot-3 but doesn’t possess the heft to contain strong forwards like George and Leonard. As such, Clippers fans should expect Leonard or George to run iso ball on Porzingis and beat him through the dribble. Porzigis has been having trouble defending the pick-and-roll so expect Rajon Rondo to pile up his assists whenever Porzingis is around.
As a team, the Mavs have not developed the discipline to play tight defense without fouling. For the Clippers, this might be the easiest weakness to exploit. Leonard and George are easily two of the best scorers in the league. If they stay aggressive throughout the game, then the referees will reward them with a ton of free throws.