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Warriors – Mavericks Western Conference Finals Preview and Predictions

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Golden State is taking on Luka Doncic and the surging Mavericks – it doesn’t get much better than this. Stephen Curry and company are looking for their 4th ring, while Doncic is in search of his first title appearance.

This matchup reminds me a lot of the Warriors/Cavaliers NBA Finals matchups. Both teams have fairly similar offensive goals but how they approach the game is vastly different.

Dallas is extremely methodical in an offensive approach centered around its star player, Doncic, with shooters and defenders surrounding. They run a lot of isolations and pick-and-roll action that leads to kick-out threes. On the other hand, Golden State wants to first push the pace and then get into their free-flowing system, centered around its star shooters in the half-court.

In four regular-season matchups with Dallas, the Warriors’ lone win was against a Mavs team that still had Kristaps Porzingis in its starting lineup and they’ve transformed as a team since then.

So, what does Golden State need to do to advance past Doncic and company?

Defending Doncic

This series is truly going to be a chess match. Doncic just spent an entire series hunting for the switch. He’s going to find the weak link on the court and call his man to set a screen to try and force a switch.

In the Warriors’ most recent regular-season matchup with Dallas, they lost 122-113 and although Draymond Green was missing from the lineup, that matchup is a good indicator of what the playstyle in this series will look like.

Nobody can guard Doncic one on one – I don’t care if you put prime Scottie Pippen out there in front of him, Doncic is going to get in his bag. The variety of ways in which he can score makes him impossible to guard. It’s quite literally, “pick your poison,” with Doncic pretty much every time down the court.

In that early-March matchup, Kerr threw just about everything he could at Doncic – drop coverage, hard hedges, switches, and full-on double teams were all things Kerr threw at Doncic to try and keep him guessing. It’s a good approach going against a player of Luka’s caliber as you don’t want him getting comfortable and one way to try and prevent that is to not show him the same look all the time.

The Warriors started out that matchup playing drop coverage early on in the game and then slowly incorporated the numerous other coverages throughout the rest of the game. The Warriors love to switch screening action as much as they can but I don’t think they can afford to switch screens across the board for 48 minutes a night in this series.

One thing Golden State should try to avoid at all costs is allowing Curry to switch onto him. Not that Curry is a bad defender, because he’s not, but you saw how Doncic abused Chris Paul out of the post in round two – he’ll look to do much of the same when Curry is guarding him. For as strong as Curry is, Doncic overpowers just about everyone, and the size is just too much of an advantage to overcome.

In their last regular-season matchup, Kerr got creative in preventing that matchup from happening. In the 4th quarter, Doncic was hunting for mismatches, and Kerr countered by having the Warriors pre-switch screens as well as doubling Doncic with Dwight Powell’s man to get the ball out of Doncic’ hands and into a non-playmaker’s.

There will be times when Curry is inevitably forced to guard Doncic but limiting those opportunities for the Mavs is going to be a major part of slowing Doncic. And the same goes for Jordan Poole when he’s on the floor. Dallas is going to relentlessly attack who they think is the weak man and Poole and Curry are going to be at the top of that list.

The Warriors have three defenders in Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins that they should be comfortable with defending Doncic, and Otto Porter Jr and Andre Iguodala (if healthy) are also bodies that Kerr can throw at Doncic.

Who Will Get The Primary Task of Defending Doncic?

Wiggins was the Dubs desired defender on Doncic in the regular season but I think Thompson and Green are both better options as both are a little more disciplined and stronger than Wiggins.

However, Wiggins certainly has the length and athleticism to help make it difficult on the superstar 24-year-old. Wiggins is also tasked with a lesser load offensively than that of Thompson, allowing him to focus more on the Luka assignment.

Jonathan Kuminga got some action in the first two rounds and he’s got the size and strength you’d like to have on Doncic but Kerr should be wary about throwing the rookie on Doncic in such high stakes.

I know the Warriors love to have Green play a roamer role on defense, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see Green to be matched up with Doncic from time to time just so Kerr can guarantee that he’s involved in most of the main action – which Golden State actually did with Green guarding Chris Paul earlier in the regular season. And Green probably is the best-suited player on the roster to defend Doncic one on one.

Look for Wiggins to take on the Doncic assignment for the bulk of the series but late in games, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Kerr handing that task over to Green or Thompson as much as possible.

One thing that I loved seeing from Golden State against Dallas in their regular-season matchups was how high they picked up Doncic in the half court – they were meeting him right around mid-court just about every time and I’d even like to see them pick him up for a full 90 feet during this series.

Picking Doncic up that far from the hoop may seem unnecessary but it’s good for two reasons:

  1. You want to tire Doncic out as much as possible and making him work just to get into their offense helps accomplish that.
  2. Dallas loves to set high on-ball screens but if you force them to set the initial screen 40 feet from the hoop, they can’t do quite as much damage from out there. Dallas can counter with a simple re-screen but that could make their already slow-paced offense even more sluggish.

Part of Dallas’ game plan against Phoenix was to wear down Paul by making him work on the defensive end and by picking him full court – and it worked. Golden State needs to give Dallas a taste of its own medicine and do the same to Doncic in this series. Dallas isn’t going to let the Warriors’ weaker defenders off the hook, so don’t let Doncic off the hook on the other end.

Put Doncic in constant screening action, make him guard one on one out on the perimeter – do whatever you need to do to make him uncomfortable on that end because that could be the difference between him hitting shots down the stretch and him not hitting those shots. Phoenix allowed him to be comfortable and he absolutely buried them. Don’t give him that chance.

Dallas’ Defense

The Mavericks put on a defensive clinic in games six and seven against the reigning Western Conference champion Suns. In game six, Booker and Paul combined for 10 made field goals and nine turnovers, and game seven wasn’t much better, combining for seven field goals and four turnovers.

If Dallas can figure out how to bottle up the backcourt of the Warriors like they did late in the series against Phoenix, the Warriors will find themselves watching the NBA Finals on their sofa.

While Phoenix has one of the best guard tandems in the league, the Warriors starting guards have quite a bit more hardware than that of the Suns. Overall, Curry, Thompson and Poole pose a more dynamic threat than Booker and Paul.

But how did Dallas lock up two of the league’s premier guards?

As mentioned earlier, Doncic relentlessly attacked Paul in the post on the offensive end and he’ll likely try to punish Curry in that same way. Dallas didn’t just let them hide on shooters or non-playmakers – they put them in actions where they were forced to defend and Paul ended up breaking down.

Booker specifically had fits when Dallas blitzed him in the pick and roll. Booker simply just didn’t know how to attack it. Phoenix’s bigs didn’t offer much help in the short roll but Booker was making the wrong reads just about every time.

Dallas threw a lot of traps at Curry in the regular season – head coach Jason Kidd loves to use his team’s length to trap smaller guards like Curry and I don’t envision that changing in this series. Dallas’ length will be an issue for Curry and I suspect it’ll bother Poole from time to time, but it’s nothing they haven’t seen before over the course of their careers. It’s just about executing. Not to mention, Golden State has the best short roll man to ever live in Draymond Green.

Speaking of Green, he has to look for his offense more consistently against the Mavs. He often turns down scoring opportunities to get others involved but if he would look for his shot just a little bit more, it would make it easier for him to get them the ball in open space.

Dallas is extremely disciplined defensively and once they threw Phoenix out of their normal stuff, it was ‘wraps. Dallas is inevitably going to have defensive success throughout this series and Golden State can’t let it snowball as the Suns did.

The Mavs employ lanky and agile defenders on the perimeter but Golden State has speed on their side in this one. Poole used his speed to blaze past Mavericks defenders multiple times in the regular season – beating these guys up and down the court should be an emphasis coming into each game.

Series Prediction

This series is going to produce some serious fireworks. Doncic and Green both love to run their mouths out on the court, and nobody on either of these teams is backing down from anybody. If nothing else, both these teams will more than likely be completely fed up with each other when this one’s over.

Dallas is the only team averaging more 3PM per game in the playoffs than the Warriors (15.5 to 14.3) and Dallas does a phenomenal job of taking care of the ball – just 12.5 per game in the regular season (3rd) and 10.3 per game in the playoffs (2nd) – while Golden State has struggled mightily in that department – 14.9 per game in the regular season (29th) and 15.8 per game in the playoffs so far (13th).

Dallas had boatloads of success against Booker and Paul but it won’t be nearly as easy to accomplish against the Splash Brothers. And yes, I’m including Poole in that.

Golden State has, “been here and done that,” and there probably isn’t much of anything Kidd could throw at them that they haven’t dealt with in years past.

Dallas won’t bother the Warriors guards nearly as much as they bothered Booker and Paul. Doncic will get his and Dallas will be right there until the very end, but they don’t quite have enough.

Warriors in 7.

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