The Warriors finished with the conference’s No. 3 seed despite Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green sharing only a combined 11 regular-season minutes amid overlapping injuries. They dispatched the Denver Nuggets in five games in the first-round only to meet a young and physical second-seeded Memphis Grizzlies team that pushed them to six games.
The Mavericks finished with the fourth seed and held onto relative optimism that Luka Doncic’s brilliance, Jason Kidd’s arrival and a mid-season trade would finally help them advance past the first-round. They did, knocking off the Utah Jazz in six games and then upsetting the top-seeded Phoenix Suns in seven.
3 Things to Watch
1. The Warriors expect a fuller roster. Warriors coach Steve Kerr cleared the NBA’s Health & Safety Protocols after missing Games 4, 5 and 6 against Memphis. Veteran forward Andre Iguodala could return as early as Friday for Game 2 after missing the past seven playoff games — including the entire series against Memphis — with a neck injury. And the team expects forward Otto Porter Jr. to appear in Game 1 after missing the past two games with a sore right foot.
Clearly, the Warriors’ success rests mostly on Curry, Thompson and Green. But the other additions could have a huge trickle-down effect. Mike Brown — who will be head coach of the Sacramento Kings next season — offered experience, strong preparation and defensive expertise in Kerr’s absence. But Kerr provides unique offensive creativity and presence as the man who guided the team’s previous three-championship run. Not only did the Warriors miss Iguodala’s playoff experience and Porter’s versatility, they also became more vulnerable with fewer wing options. The Warriors may not have to worry about such issues against Dallas.
2. How will Luka Doncic top himself? It seems inevitable … the Warriors will soon feel the pain that the LA Clippers, Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns all experienced. No team has a solution for Doncic, particularly in the playoffs.
The Clippers survived a first-round nightmare against Doncic in 2020 (31 ppg; 50.0 FG%) and in 2021 (35.7 ppg; 49.0 FG%) only because they had Kawhi Leonard while Doncic had little help. This year, Doncic dominated against the Jazz (29.0 ppg; 46.9%) and the Suns (32.2 ppg; 45.7 FG%) while also leaning on his supporting cast.
After already facing Denver center Nikola Jokic and Memphis guard Ja Morant, the Warriors have experience on handling a seemingly impossible defensive assignment. Expect the Warriors to throw multiple bodies at Doncic both big (Green, Porter, Kevon Looney) and small (Thompson, Andrew Wiggins). Expect the Warriors to make Doncic work on defense against any of the Splash Brothers. Expect the Warriors to tolerate a Doncic outburst so long as no other Mavericks player experiences the same scoring high. That puts the onus on any combination of Jalen Brunson, Dorian Finney-Smith and Spencer Dinwiddie to relieve Doncic as they have done occasionally during this postseason run.
3. How much help will Curry, Thompson and Green need? Will this year’s Warriors have the same “Strength in Numbers” identity as previous squads?
The Warriors saw third-year guard Jordan Poole blossom in three playoff starts against Denver and serve as a key reserve against Memphis, only to flame out in the final games in each series. The Warriors played rookie Jonathan Kuminga double-digit minutes in three games against Memphis before limiting his playing time the rest of the series, despite Iguodala and Porter becoming hobbled by injuries.
All of those players will have opportunities to develop into the X-factor against Dallas. Because of the uncertainty of those moving parts, though, the Warriors may need their stars to produce more efficiently than they did against Memphis. Curry, Thompson and Green all showed their greatness, particularly in a decisive Game 6. But they also labored through off-shooting nights and sloppy turnovers.
Number to know
22.4 — This series will be a contrast in styles. One team plays quickly and moves the ball. The other plays slow and generally keeps the ball in the hands of one guy.
The Mavs lead the playoffs in time of possession, averaging 22.4 minutes of possession through their first 12 games. For the third straight year, Luka Doncic leads the postseason in individual time of possession (10.0 minutes per game).
The Warriors, meanwhile, rank 14th at just 20.2 minutes of possession, with nobody in the top 10 among individuals. They rank first in player movement (11.3 miles traveled per 24 minutes of possession) and second in ball movement (340 passes per 24 minutes of possession), while the Mavs rank 15th (9.9) and 16th (273).
Dallas suppressed the Warriors’ ball movement as the Mavs won three of the four regular-season meetings. Golden State led the regular season at 369 passes per 24 minutes of possession, but their 345 per 24 against the Mavs was their lowest rate against any Western Conference opponent. Stephen Curry played in all four games, but Draymond Green played in just one of the four.
In his fourth NBA season, Doncic has maximized his individual dominance. And that has elevated the play of his teammates. Even so, the Warriors’ depth should prove too much to overcome. Warriors in 6.
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