May 18, 2022

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The second round of the playoffs saw the Golden State Warriors finishing off the Memphis Grizzlies, therefore making their way back to the Western Conference finals. It was surely good news for the Warriors after being injury-riddled for a couple of seasons.  The team is now equipped with a deep and healthy roster, and adding the franchise’s championship pedigree, it really wasn’t surprising to see the Warriors get back on their feet. On the other hand, the Dallas Mavericks, who will face the Warriors in the conference finals, have a different backstory. The team won its first playoff series since 2011 (against Utah Jazz), then won against the No. 1-seeded Phoenix Suns. Unlike the case of the Warriors, nobody expected the Mavericks to go this far. This makes the Warriors the obvious favorites in this series, but one shouldn’t count out the Mavericks just yet, given the confidence that they are playing right now. Luka Doncic is on fire and will certainly get more boost with help from  Dorian Finney-Smith, Jalen Brunson, and  Spencer Dinwiddie. As the clear underdogs, the Mavericks will play like they have nothing to lose. As for the Warriors, they are clearly a force to be reckoned with given their intact championship core of Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson. They are now even more dangerous on offense with the addition of Jordan Poole. The Mavericks will have to play like they did during Game 7 against the Suns if they want to knock off the juggernaut that is the Warriors. Now, here are some key questions about the Western Conference finals matchup.
  1. How can the Warriors slow down Doncic? The truth is, attempting to “slow” Doncic seems impossible because there isn’t a lot that can be done to keep him from racking up the points, which was evident in the second round. You can only go back to the way Doncic torched Mikal Bridges, the Defensive Player of the Year runner-up, by shooting 58.1 percent from the field. So containing Doncic and his scoring, even against the likes of Draymond Green, Andrew Wiggins, or whoever else the Warriors decide to throw at him, seems pretty far-fetched. What the Warriors can do is to shut down everyone else around Doncic, which will force him to beat the others with his scoring. Notice those times when the Suns won against the Mavs, it was done by great rotation defense instead of knocking down Doncic’s shots. The defense blocked Doncic from passing it out to the perimeter when driving to the rim.The Warriors can scheme things up to take away some of Doncic’s would-be assists. This is very doable since the Warriors were effective in blocking off a lot of Doncic’s kick-out passes. Doncic’s mid-air bailout passes to teammates in the corners as he executes is part of his brilliance and the Warriors are aware of this.
  2. Can Dinwiddie stay consistent? The inconsistency of Dinwiddie remaining consistent over the course of the playoffs is no secret. He averaged 15.8 points, shot 49.8 percent from the field, and shot 40 percent from 3-point range after being traded to Dallas in February. But he has averaged only 13.2 points, and shot 39 percent from the field through 13 games in the playoffs so far, certainly a noticeable dip. However, things were different during Dallas’ last two games against the Suns. Dinwiddie averaged 22.5 points and then was shooting an unbelievable 72 percent from the field, plus 71 percent from long range. Now, it’s kinda unrealistic to expect Dinwiddie to sustain those numbers but one can expect him to get to the rim at will and also knock down 3s. This is certainly a best-case scenario for Dallas. It’s now Dinwiddie and Brunson’s job to put points on the board and take some pressure off Doncic, since the Warriors will be busy limiting him from popping off. 
  3. Which version of the Warriors will show up in the series? The Warriors are definitely a superteam in more ways than one, but judging from Golden State’s second-round matchup against the Grizzlies, they have a weakness that Dallas can use well against them – the tendency of the Warriors to get totally stagnant and sloppy on offense. The Warriors averaged 19.5 turnovers in their last two games against Memphis, which prevented them from wrapping out that series in Game 5. It almost happened in Game 6 too. Instead of going for a base hit, the Warriors tend to try and go for the home-run play. Sure, that worked when Curry and Thompson were super consistent in drilling those transition 3s. But things are not like what they are used to – Curry is shooting 35.9 percent from the 3-point territory, which is certainly not shabby, not by a long shot, but it is a career-low for Curry. The Warriors are still formidable, but if they get sloppy on offense, the Mavericks can capitalize on that to get ahead in the series.
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