2024 Playoffs: West Finals | Timberwolves (3) vs. Mavericks (5)

Wolves-Mavs: 4 things to look for in Game 3 of West Finals

Here's what to know as the Western Conference Finals shifts to Dallas for Game 3.

The Mavs rally and Luka Doncic hits a game-winning triple to go up 2-0 in the West Finals.

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What are the odds of a team being involved in not one, but two playoff series where the higher seed loses the first two games at home?

The Timberwolves now know what the Nuggets felt in the Western Conference semifinals, when Denver went down 0-2 to Minnesota. It’s a situation that shakes your confidence to the core, for sure, eliminating all room for error.

It’s 2-0, Mavericks up on the Wolves, with the next two games of the conference finals in Dallas. Kyrie Irving and Luka Doncic are having their way against the league’s No. 1 rated defense, while the Wolves are slipping on grease while trying to go next level.

Here’s what we do know about the NBA playoffs — never assume that anything stays the same throughout a series.

With that said, here are four things to look for in Game 3 (8 ET, TNT):

1. Does Dallas keep supersizing Minnesota?

One of the key NBA trades of the last few years changed the dynamics of a team and made it a championship contender.

But we’ll get to Rudy Gobert joining forces with Karl-Anthony Towns on the Timberwolves in a minute.

Right now, it’s another trade — Daniel Gafford joining forces with Dereck Lively II on the Mavs — that’s making a big difference in this series.

And you might say unexpectedly so. Gafford was stuck in Washington with a losing team before the trade deadline and Lively is a rookie. Yet, they’re leaving their footprints on the Wolves by being a bigger offensive presence in the paint and, dare we say, doing just as well defensively.

Both are feasting on pick-and-rolls off Luka and Kyrie for easy dunks and it’s causing problems for Minnesota. They’ve combined for 23-for-29 shooting in two games and the Wolves haven’t figured a way to prevent that.

Lively in particular is rolling — he’s coming off a big series against OKC, and now he’s the best big man in the conference finals. In addition to the scoring, he’s averaging 10 rebounds and his clear-out of Jaden McDaniels to allow single coverage on Luka for the Game 2 winning shot was slick.

“He’s been amazing this season and in playoffs,” said Doncic. “He has taken not one, not two, but three steps forward. So good that people forget he’s a rookie.”

Kidd added: “For a young man who’s a rookie playing late in the playoffs, with trust he has with his teammates on the offensive and defensive end, it shows he’s going to be special.”

It’s time for Gobert and Towns to either make a stand … or take a seat on the beach chair.

2. Ant must crack the double-team code

He’s only 22 so he remains a work in progress, regardless of how well he played in the first round and, for the most part, against the Nuggets in the semis. Yes, once you get past the glitz and the hype, Anthony Edwards is still learning the game.

We say this because he hasn’t been able to read defenses on the level of, say, Kyrie and Luka. Over the next few years, maybe he will. But the Wolves don’t have the luxury of time right now.

Edwards is still trying to master the nuances — when to break double-teams, when to see them coming, when to pass and when to try to be a hero.

As these playoffs have progressed, it has gotten harder for Edwards to score efficiently because teams are figuring him out. The opposing coaching staffs are devoting hours to studying his tendencies and preferences and probing ways to make him uncomfortable.

He’s not missing open shots. He’s just not seeing them very often.

3. Does Naz Reid get starter’s minutes?

Wolves coach Chris Finch has a decision to make. Is it time to make the Sixth Man Award winner less of a sixth man?

Reid averaged 20 minutes this postseason until Game 2 of the West Finals, when Finch was forced to bump those minutes to 32. That’s because Reid was a problem for Dallas with his 3-point shooting and defensive help.

Normally, coaches are hesitant to change things up in the playoffs; better to stick with a formula that works. Although in this case, the Wolves are clearly in a bind. If Towns and Edwards struggle offensively — and they’re only shooting 30% — the lack of scoring puts pressure on the Wolves’ defense to be near-perfect.

So don’t be surprised if Reid sees more time on the floor, at the expense of Gobert and/or Towns.

4. X-factors for Game 3

Here’s who might be difference-makers on Sunday:

Derrick Jones Jr. — Almost invisible so far in this series (12 points and eight rebounds over 68 minutes), Jones is a human pogo-stick who enjoyed moments in the semifinals by being disruptive and hitting 3s.

Josh Green/Jaden Hardy — These two bring speed and energy while backing up Kyrie and Luka. Have you wondered why Tim Hardaway Jr. has fallen out of favor? Kidd is sacrificing his 3-point shooting because Green and Hardy offer a different dimension and better defense.

Jaden McDaniels’ shooting — He has drastic swings when it comes to scoring. In these playoffs, McDaniels had a 0-point game (against Denver in 39 minutes) and also three games of 20-plus points. He can hit the corner 3-pointer when open, but the Mavs’ rotations are quick.

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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on X.

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