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What Dallas Mavericks must change to rally past Clippers

What Dallas Mavericks must change to rally past Clippers
May 28, 2021; Dallas, Texas, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) drives to the basket past LA Clippers forward Marcus Morris Sr. (8) and guard Terance Mann (14) during the second quarter in game three in the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

What a difference a week makes. After a blistering 2-0 start, the Dallas Mavericks come to Los Angeles on the heels of losing two games at home, including a Game 4 blowout.

Game 5 is essentially a must-win for Dallas given how this first-round series is trending. Here are the adjustments Coach Rick Carlisle must make for the Mavericks to rally past . 

Start Dwight Powell over Maxi Kleber

Maxi Kleber has been one of the Mavericks’ best performers this season, but he’s struggled against the Los Angeles Clippers.

Known for his 3-point shooting and defense, the German hasn’t found many shooting opportunities and Kawhi Leonard is scoring at will in their matchup. Carlisle should replace Kleber with Dwight Powell in the starting lineup.

Powell’s rim rolling can unlock Luka Doncic’s pick and roll offense, which struggled in Game 4. At the very least, Powell will be more of an offensive threat than Kleber has been this entire series. Powell’s energy will also be welcome, especially after a blowout loss where no one looked up for the game. 

Play more small ball lineups

What Dallas Mavericks must change to get rally past Clippers
Apr 22, 2021; Dallas, Texas, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis (3) looks to score as Dallas Mavericks forward Dorian Finney-Smith (10) defends during the second quarter at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

After replacing Ivica Zubac with the smaller Nicolas Batum in the middle of the first quarter of Game 3, the Clippers have looked like a new team.

Playing five wing players gives the Clippers incredible spacing, often leading to open threes from whoever the Dallas center is supposed to be guarding. This lineup hasn’t hurt the Clippers on defense, because Kristaps Porzingis hasn’t been able to capitalize on the smaller matchup.

Carlisle tried playing Boban Marjanovic with some success, but the real answer is to match the Clippers with small ball. Kleber can play the ostensible center and match up with any of the Clippers wings.

Dorian Finney-Smith would also be an interesting answer at center. Dallas is already struggling to rebound and play interior defense — going smaller is the only way to match up with the Clippers.

Put Josh Richardson on Paul George

Dallas doesn’t have an answer on defense for Kawhi Leonard. Kleber is the type of quick, big defender who would do well against Leonard, but he’s averaging 33 points per game in this series — 10 points higher than his playoff average.

No one on the Mavericks’ roster can guard Leonard, so they’ll have to live with his production. However, Dallas has the ideal defender for Paul George in Josh Richardson.

Richardson was brought to Dallas to match up against guards like Paul George. Even though he’s had a disappointing season, Richardson plays better defense than guys like Tim Hardaway, Jr. With Hardaway Jr.’s recent struggles on offense, Carlisle may consider starting Richardson for the better defensive matchup.

Bench Kristaps Porzingis in the fourth quarter

What Dallas Mavericks must change to get rally past Clippers
May 28, 2021; Dallas, Texas, USA; LA Clippers guard Terance Mann (14) guards Dallas Mavericks center Kristaps Porzingis (6) during the second quarter in game three in the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

This has been a tough series for Porzingis. After a dreadful series opener, the Latvian bounced back with a good performance the next time out, before an awful showing in Game 3.

Porzingis played better on offense in Game 4, but the Clippers have succeeded at targeting him on defense. If Porzingis isn’t scoring 30 points, his defensive liabilities make him unplayable against the Clippers’ small lineups. The Mavericks have to bench him in fourth quarter. 

There are many ramifications for benching Porzingis, but it’s an easy decision from a basketball perspective. In limited minutes, the offense can run through Porzingis, while not allowing the Clippers to set up to exploit him on defense.

Having not won a playoff series since the 2011 championship, Rick Carlisle and the Mavericks’ front office want this series win. It won’t be possible if Porzingis plays like he has in the first four contests.

Carlisle making the tough decision to bench Porzingis during crunch time might be the reason Dallas wins this series.