|Time||10 p.m. ET|
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Winning in the NBA Playoffs isn’t easy, nor is it something to take for granted.
After finishing with the league’s best record at 64-18, the defending Western Conference Champion Phoenix Suns were expected to roll through the postseason with ease on the way to their second consecutive NBA Finals.
The New Orleans Pelicans had other ideas, and when the Suns’ leading scorer Devin Booker strained his hamstring, they found themselves in a dog fight, needing a dominant performance from Chris Paul in Game 6 to advance to the Western Conference Semifinals. They’ll take on the Dallas Mavericks, who closed out the Utah Jazz in six games to secure the first series win in the Luka Doncic era.
While the Suns appeared vulnerable in the first round, the Mavericks could be a favorable matchup as they’ve swept the season series and won the last nine matchups, with the Mavericks’ last win coming on November 29, 2019. Nonetheless, the Suns are heavy favorites for the series at -295/+240, and they’ll host the Mavericks for Game 1 at the Footprint Center.
Will the Suns’ dominance continue, or will Doncic and the Mavericks pull the upset? Let’s analyze both sides and find out!
Can Doncic and the Mavericks Outscore the Suns?
Fans, analysts and the betting markets weren’t kind to the Dallas Mavericks after Luka Doncic missed the first three games against the Jazz with a calf strain.
Opening as heavy underdogs, they proved everyone wrong, boasting a 2-1 lead before Doncic returned in Game 4. With stellar play from Jalen Brunson, who averaged 27.8 points, 4.2 assists and 4.8 rebounds, the Mavericks proved that they’re more than just Doncic running a heliocentric offense. Upon his return, they ultimately closed out the Jazz in six games as they advanced to the Western Conference semifinals.
While the Suns have had their number in recent matchups, Doncic has played in just one of the three matchups this year, and he put up 28 points on 9-of-23 (39.1%) shooting along with eight assists and eight rebounds.
Despite the poor shooting night, the Mavericks held a 89-80 lead in the fourth quarter despite playing their third game in four nights after a back-to-back win against the Toronto Raptors where all the starters played heavy minutes.
It’s also worth mentioning that all three games were played before the Mavericks traded Kristaps Porziņģis for Spence Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans, which gave this team an identity as a small ball team that can stretch the floor with shooting.
The Mavericks took the highest percentage of 3-point field goal attempts (48.8%) in the First Round while shooting 37.1%. That could give them the math advantage by trading 2s for 3s against a Suns team which primarily thrives in the midrange.
While Doncic will likely see Mikal Bridges on him, we’re likely to see him hunt for switches looking to attack Chris Paul, Booker or DeAndre Ayton. Going back to last year, we haven’t seen much evidence that the Suns can slow him down as he averaged 28.7 points, 7.0 rebounds and 6.7 assists in three games against the Suns last season.
The Mavericks will need Brunson to continue to be a secondary creator, but they’ll also need more from Spencer Dinwiddie. Dinwiddie had an abysmal series against the Jazz, averaging just 15.3 points while shooting 36.1% from the field and 29.4% from behind the arc. Overall, I expect the Mavericks offense to find success in this matchup, but the Mavericks have question marks on the other side of the ball.
The biggest difference from the Mavericks teams of the last few years and this year is that Jason Kidd has made this team better defensively. They’ve gone from 20th in Defensive Rating (113.0) to sixth in Defensive Rating (109.4) in just one season.
Defense from Dorian Finney-Smith and Reggie Bullock on Paul and Booker will be key. While the Mavericks ran the Jazz off the 3-point line and forced them into mid-rage jumpers, that plays into what the Suns do well. They’ll also have to deal with Ayton, who can make them pay for putting a smaller defender on him in ways that Rudy Gobert couldn’t.
They’ll be defending Ayton with a 6-foot-10 Dwight Powell and a 6-foot-10 Maxi Kleber. They’re likely to struggle, especially when smaller players switch onto him, so ultimately their chances will rest of how far Doncic and this offense can perform in spacing the floor and consistently scoring from beyond the arc.
Booker and Paul Lead the Suns from the Midrange
The Suns unexpectedly found themselves in a tough First Round series when Booker strained his hamstring in Game 2 against the Pelicans. He returned in Game 6, scoring just 13 points on 5-of-12 shooting and 1-of-6 from 3 in 32 minutes.
While Booker did hit the 3 to put the Suns ahead 106-104, it remains to be seen if he is 100 percent healthy. If he is, the Mavericks could be in for a long series as he’s historically dominated them. In three games this season, Booker has averaged 23.7 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.3 assists.
Paul has proven that he’s the Point God and can control a game in ways that few others can. When the Suns needed him most, Paul put up 33 points on 14-of-14 shooting with eight assists and five rebounds, leading his team back from a 10-point halftime deficit.
Unlike the series against the Pelicans, they won’t get dominated on the offensive glass because they are the bigger team. They also won’t send the Mavericks to the free throw line much because they’re a perimeter based team that doesn’t go to the line as often. The things that gave them issues against the Pelicans don’t exist here in this matchup.
In addition, the Suns should thrive in the midrange as they take the highest frequency of midrange shots (41.7%), also making the highest percentage (48.1%) against a Mavericks team which is 25th in opponent midrange frequency (33.2%).
One of the biggest advantages the Suns have is their ability to close games in the clutch. NBA.com defines clutch games as games in which the point differential is five or fewer with five minutes to go. In these games, the Suns are 33-9 with a Net Rating of 33.4 behind an Offensive Rating of 131.6 and a Defensive Rating of 98.2.
On the other hand, the Mavericks’ crunch time offense has left a lot to be desired as they often resort to Doncic isolations and step back jumpers. If this is a close game, look for the Suns to have an edge.
This is a really tough matchup, but I think the Mavericks have a real shot at winning this series given their ability to consistently hit 3s and create a math problem for a Suns team which thrives in the midrange.
The Suns have been an elite team all year, but they don’t have another gear. They’re a perimeter based team which thrives in the midrange and doesn’t feature Ayton as much as they should. Overall, I expect the Mavericks’ 3-point advantage to loom large, and I think you have to give them the edge offensively with Booker only one game removed from his hamstring strain.
The Mavericks are actually one of the better road teams, going 25-17 ATS on the road, and they’ll be facing a Suns team which is just 19-22 ATS at home — which shows us that the Suns have been overvalued at home this season. My model agrees, making the Suns closer to a pick ’em than the -5.5 we see in the market.
While the Mavericks did lose to the Suns three times this season, Luka Doncic played in just one of those games, and the Mavericks held a late lead before collapsing in a game where the Suns had a significant rest advantage.
I’ll take the Mavericks +5.5 and sprinkle something on the moneyline at +190.
Pick: Dallas Mavericks +5.5 & ML +190