Despite pulling through a rough 8-12 start to the 2020-2021 season, the Dallas Mavericks again find themselves facing the loaded Los Angeles Clippers in the first round. Perhaps a higher seeding didn’t matter ultimately. This time around, the Mavericks improved to the 5-seed, as five losses cost them a chance at a first-round home-court advantage.
However, as Dallas proved in the bubble, they won’t walk away without a fight. Similar to the arts of theatre and the film industry, the rematch makes for entertaining drama. Building off prior success bodes for an easier marketing campaign. Without stretching the mind to mold a narrative forcefully, LA vs. Dallas part ll writes itself.
Professional sports, specifically the NBA, correlate with the art of theatre. Between the intense moments during the finals seconds of a game, the finesse-heavy movements of basketball, and the dependence of a rambunctious crowd during the postseason, all liken to a thespian’s role in a play.
Making a case for a better sequel
Last postseason, the first-round series had it all: chippy moments from the pairing of Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis versus the dirty play of Marcus Morris Sr; verbal warfare featuring Doncic and Montrezl Harrell; and a last-second heroic shot from Doncic.
However, despite the drama surrounding the series last year, the sequel can surpass the original. Mavericks vs. Clipper part ll parallels to the Godfather II. Much like the original Godfather, the Dallas Mavericks first playoff series established a world, and in doing so, set up intriguing characters for a future run.
With the sequel set, Doncic has improved his 3-point shooting; the Mavericks are now healthy with Jalen Brunson and Willie Cauley-Stein in the rotation compared to being out of the bubble, and the Clippers depth has improved since the last meeting.
While the original Godfather set up the world, the sequel unleashed the action making for a classic mobster movie. Similarly, the Mavericks-Clippers sequel doesn’t require a game or two to feel out each other. Instead, expect both teams, mainly Rick Carlisle, to play hands hidden in the regular season.
Now, the Michael Corleon of the series remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure: both teams come into the series at a stronger point in their competitive trajectory. As both teams go into Saturday with more experience together and fewer hurdles to jump, the stars aligned for a classic series of intense basketball.
Breakout Potential for Kristaps Porzingis
Continuing the Godfather ll theme, the Clippers-Mavericks postseason sequel features a player primed for a Robert DeNiro breakout performance.
Porzingis, like DeNiro’s early career, experienced success on the lower tiers of competition. However, top-tier recognition didn’t come until DeNiro’s performance in The Godfather ll. Critical acclaim found DeNiro at the age of 31 when he received an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
Career-trajectory-wise, perhaps Porzingis won’t reach the parallels of a Hollywood icon such as DeNiro. However, leaning to the supporting role best fits Doncic’s running mate. In the same breath, Porzingis has the capability to take over in other ways rather than iso situations.
While Porzingis displayed great moments in the bubble, the 2020-2021 season follow-up fell flat of expectations. Much of the blame derives from the lack of offseason development stemming from yet another season-ending injury. However, lapses on defense and displacement on offense also deserve attention.
Despite an NBA All-Star nod, the once-proclaimed unicorn hasn’t experienced a genuine tier-lifting breakthrough. Last year, Porzingis took advantage of the frontcourt weakness in Harrell. Blistering the Clippers’ defense for 71 points in three games while shooting 52 percent from deep.
However, as the 2020-2021 regular-season series showcased, this rendition of the Clippers differs from the last. In the two games played versus the Clippers, Porzingis averaged 16 points and was rendered negative with a plus-minus of -4.5. Going by his first appearance versus the Clippers on March 15, it’s apparent his choppy rhythm affected his game.
Playing another hand
In all fairness, when speaking on his first game versus LA, Dallas failed to find Porzingis on post-entry passes while guarded by the likes of Reggie Jackson and Paul George. Much of his night consisted of setting screens on the perimeter and shuffling to the rim or waiting for an attempt at an open 3-point shot.
However, when on the move, Porzingis found success. On a pick-and-roll action, Porzingis slammed down an alley-oop from Doncic. Unlike Harrell, Serge Ibaka won’t struggle to extend out to the perimeter on defense. Porzingis must test Ibaka by involving him in pick-and-roll sequences.
Although keeping Ibaka away from the paint seems like the surefire way to neutralize the known shot blocker, activity ensures the Clippers’ necessity to switch on defense. Staying stagnant on the perimeter allows George and Kawhi Leonard to stay put on their assignments. Also, as history proves, off-ball actions create elite offenses.
While Porzingis’ tendency to attempt a 28-foot 3-point shot will appear in multiple games, keeping the Clippers on their toes by forcing them to rotate or stick on their respective assignment adds a wrinkle to Dallas’ offense.
Dulling the Claw
Regardless of the critiques surrounding Porzingis’ actions on defense, there is no denying his combination of height and flashes of athleticism. In Dallas’ regular-season series-clinching victory, Porzingis rim-protection played a significant role.
Last season, Maxi Kleber had the difficult assignment in guarding Leonard. Due to the regression in Kleber’s defense, don’t expect Carlisle to stick him on such an elite player for the postseason rematch for long stretches. Look for Dorian Finney-Smith to attach himself to the physically demanding Leonard.
No player will shut down Leonard. Conversely, with the help of Pozingis’ wingspan and timing, the Mavericks may slow down the at-times dominant wing. On a strong closeout, Porzingis blocked a Leonard 3-point attempt.
Porzingis blocked a Kawhi 3. pic.twitter.com/dMbovBYfK3
— Bobby Karalla (@bobbykaralla) March 16, 2021
Not limited to closeout defense, Porzingis also blocked Leonard during a downhill fast break attempt. Porzingis’ offense, for as much as Mavericks fans love the deep three, doesn’t outweigh his potential on defense.
Dallas Mavericks must unleash Josh Richardson
Despite recent Def Pen coverage suggesting Richardson’s future as a Maverick is in question, the NBA postseason exists as a saving grace. Expect a prolonged series pending on Richardson locking down and Carlisle slotting the small-but-lengthy guard as the primary Paul George defender.
Even if Richardson isn’t the defensive stopper touted by Donnie Nelson this past offseason, Carlisle must deploy him as the full-time George defender and part-time Leonard assailant. Finney-Smith and Richardson will partake in most defensive possessions assigned to the Clippers stars at the end of the series.
Isolation and transition sequences favor Richardson’s wingspan. Yet, despite his stretchy build, pick-and-roll possessions expose the 6’5 guard’s defensive weakness. In the Dallas Mavericks’ last regular-season meeting with the Clippers, two-thirds of Richardson’s possessions with George as the pick-and-roll initiator ended in a basket for the Clipper guard.
However, in the three games versus the Clippers, Richardson handled business. Using the NBA website’s tracking data painted the bigger picture: Richardson matches up well with George.
In 13:38 minutes, second-most for any matchup with Richardson as the primary defender, George succumbed to converting only one of four 3-point shots. Aside from shooting, where George converted a measly 33 percent of his attempts, Richardson forced the All-NBA guard to cough up three turnovers to one assist.
Dallas Mavericks countering the pick-and-roll
The Dallas Mavericks’ defense must counter-attack pick-and-roll actions by keeping the rim protected. With Ivica Zubac as the typical pick-setter, don’t expect many pop sequences. However, Ibaka’s presence in pick-and-roll/pop scenarios allows the Clippers to keep the Mavericks guessing.
Unlike last season, Ibaka’s 3-point percentage lands south of 35 percent. Still, despite shooting a lower mark from distance, the Mavericks must account for the high possibility of the 2019 NBA champion to convert on open looks.
Conversely, perhaps Dallas prefers the role players find their looks rather than George and Leonard racking up free throws or gain a rhythm, as the two stars aren’t known for play-making abilities. Any situation with the two stars as the scorer remains the worst-case scenario. By forcing George and Leonard to facilitate, the Clippers’ bench must finish the job.
Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Clippers supporting cast
Although DeNiro was considered a supporting actor in the early ’70s, the legendary actor no longer holds such a secondary title. Even at an advanced age, DeNiro earns top billing. Godfather 2 blessed us with Al Pacino and DeNiro, but beyond the stars, other respected thespians graced the silver screen.
Firstly, the works of Robert Duvall’s character, Tom Hagen, played a vital role as the head lawyer of the Corleone family. Now, whether this next player resembles that of a diplomatic lawyer is for the reader to decide. However, Marcus Morris Sr. does represent the importance of a true support role as the enforcer and overall irritant of the Clippers.
Labeling Morris Sr. solely as a bully or a pest is like calling Michael Corleone a family man; it only paints half the picture. Beyond the edgy defense and in-your-face trash talk, the 10-year veteran leads the Clippers in the 3-point percentage category with an outstanding 47 percent mark.
Getting it done with 3s
Finney-Smith stands as the Mavericks version of Morris Sr, although in a less boisterous manner. For a team with six players averaging more than 4 3-point attempts per contest, Finney-Smith remains second-most efficient of the group at 39 percent.
Tim Hardaway Jr., second-highest on the Mavericks in 3-point attempts, also averaged 39 percent, impressively so, at a larger clip. Despite the damage caused by Hardaway Jr. from distance, drives to the rim provide Dallas a much-needed dimension to their at-times stale offense. According to Basketball-Reference, this season, the former Michigan Wolverine spent 15 percent of his shots attacking the rim, his highest percentage since becoming a Maverick.
In the 2020 playoffs, one Maverick might as well have been a crowd extra in the shooting department. Although he did a valiant job in guarding Leonard, Maxi Kleber’s energy depleted on offense. Shooting a miserable 5-26 from three, it’s impossible to imagine the results going any lower.
Coming off a team-high 41 percent from the outside, Kleber is the only Maverick to hit the 40 percent club. On the other side of the spectrum, the Clippers have nine players who shoot at least 40 percent from three. Despite the elite defense from the Clippers, don’t expect many low-scoring games. Under head coach Tyronn Lue, the Clippers don’t hesitate to let 3-point shots fly.
With every proverbial stone turned, the Mavericks-Clippers matchup yields an interesting stat or a compelling storyline. With the schedule set, and both teams receiving ample rest, prepare for a chaotic, yet calculated series. Hopefully, no one on either team lands the Alfredo role.
All stats appear courtesy of NBA.com/stats, Basketball-Reference.com, and Instatsport.com.