One of the most hotly-anticipated first-round matchups of the NBA Playoffs is the Dallas Mavericks going up against the Los Angeles Clippers. A rematch from last year’s playoffs, the teams have bad blood. It could lead to some fireworks.
The Mavericks lost in six games to the Clippers, but it was a spirited defeat for an inexperienced group. Dallas will expect to do better in this series. Here are four lessons the Mavericks learned from last year’s series that will help them beat the Clippers.
Dallas Mavericks play tougher than the Clippers
The Los Angeles Clippers came into the Orlando bubble last year as contenders and talked trash like one. While they’ve clearly been humbled from last year’s early playoff exit, the Clippers still have intimidating players like Patrick Beverley, Marcus Morris and Rajon Rondo.
Both Beverley and Morris had infamous altercations with Luka Doncic in that series, as well as current Los Angeles Laker Montrezl Harris. If Dallas is going to win, it needs to step up mentally when the Clippers try to mess with their star player.
The Mavericks traded away enforcer James Johnson. But Kristaps Porzingis, Josh Richardson and Dorian Finney-Smith should all be able to hold their own against the Clippers. If they can’t, Doncic’s noted temper may get him into hot water with the referees.
Don’t let Ivica Zubac get hot
Dallas can afford to have Kawhi Leonard and Paul George score. However, it cannot let Ivica Zubac swing a game in this series. Zubac always plays well against the Mavs. In last year’s series, the Croation averaged 11.2 points per game, including three games of 15 points or more. This season, his average rose to 13 points per game against the Mavericks. A center with a career average of 7.8 points per game shouldn’t be this consistently good against Dallas.
After scheming against the stars, Coach Rick Carlisle should focus on Zubac. Willie Cauley-Stein and Dwight Powell, who both didn’t play in the bubble, will give Zubac a tougher matchup than Porzingis and Boban Marjanovic did last season.
If The Dallas Mavericks don’t let Zubac beat them, the Clippers will have a tougher time finding their third scorer.
Let Luka Doncic attack whoever is playing point guard
Leonard and George are two of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA. Yet Luka Doncic averaged 31 points and 8.7 assists during the series. Doncic is a great player, but this was due to Dallas exploiting the Clippers’ weakness at point guard.
Dallas made a point of constantly setting screens until Doncic found a favorable matchup, which was more often than not. The Slovenian scored 10 points in 61 seconds against Beverely, who didn’t guard him for the rest of the series. Reggie Jackson didn’t fare much better, as Doncic hit his now iconic game four winner over Jackson’s outstretched hand. Rondo was a recent midseason acquisition and he might get the lion’s share of minutes at point guard. If the Clippers guard Doncic with a 35 year old who’s played just 18 games with the team, Dallas will be very happy.
Regardless, the Mavs and coach Carlisle should continue targeting the Clippers’ point guard, which should lead to a big series for Doncic.
Dallas Mavericks must keep Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis on the floor
Ultimately, nothing else matters if Dallas can’t keep Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis on the floor together. Porzingis was ejected early in Game 1 of last year’s series and didn’t play after Game 3. Doncic hurt his ankle in Game 3 and had to sit out the entire fourth quarter. In total, the Mavericks got about two games of Doncic and Porzingis together on the court. That the hobbled Mavs took the heavily favored Clippers to six games is a testament to how well they played.
Doncic is always a threat to get ejected. But the real concern, as always, is with Porzingis’ health. If the Latvian can stay on the floor, Dallas can make a championship run. If not, the Mavericks are first round fodder and will have a long offseason to figure out Porzingis’ future.
If the Dallas Mavericks can follow these lessons, they have a great chance of pulling off the biggest upset in the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs.