The Mavericks: Started from the bottom now we here.

Anyone who follows the Mavs closely will recall the tweet fired out by ESPN when the Mavs were under .500 touting a picture of a visibly upset Luka whilst also pointing out that the Knicks owned the Mavs 21 first round draft pick. We were 9-14 on the day of that tweet.

Since then, the Mavs finished out their shortened season 42-30, meaning they went 33-16 after ESPN tried to make a meme out of our beloved Luka Magic. The season ended wildly with the Mavericks, Portland, and the Lakers all pushing to try and miss the play in. The Mavs have the 3 way tie breaker due to winning their division which put them at 5th in the western conference playoff standings, poised to repeat their playoff battle with the L.A. Clippers.

Whether you thought the Mavs were better off playing Denver or the Clippers, the barrier to entry to get past round one in the Western Conference is steep. On the one hand, Denver has the all but confirmed MVP of the regular season in Jokic. His game has only transcended further as Denver lost their 2nd best player in Jamal Murray to a season ending torn ACL in his left knee. The Zach Lowe's of the world were deeming it the fatal blow to Denver. Essentially bringing the curtain down on their championship contention potential. But Denver has surprised everyone and stepped up their play despite losing their home grown 2nd star. Michael Porter Jr. has stepped up to fill the void as a scorer and overall this season without Murray in the lineup, Denver has gone 16-8.

In looking at the Clippers roster, some of the key contributors from the 2020 playoff battle are now gone. Most notably, Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell. Lou's offensive abilities and innate ability to punish any team's second unit with starter caliber level play will be sorely missed against our Mavs squad. He averaged 27.1 minutes and 16 points per playoff game against us last year good for 3rd best scorer on the Clippers squad in our round one meeting. Most will remember that Patrick Beverley was absent for all but one game in last year’s bubble match. His presence as a pesky defender who disrupts will be felt but Luka and Brunson will determine just how much of an impact Beverley will have.

And digging even deeper into the memory banks will help us to recall that Paul George was not especially impactful on offense during our last run in with the L.A. in the bubble, only shooting at a 35.8% clip inside the 3 point line and a feeble 27.5% from 3 point range in the same span. He also led his team in that series with 16 turnovers.

As optimistic as I tend to be when it comes to our beloved Dallas Mavericks, we have to anticipate that both PG and Beverley will be difference makers in round one. We can hope for the best but I'd go ahead and assume that defensively, this Clippers team is going to give us some trouble.

However, let’s look at some of the facts on the ground for Dallas and why this year’s rendition of what may become an annual tradition with the Clippers, might fare more in our favor this year. For starters, our team makeup is going to be vastly different than the product we put on the floor last season.

We will have KP for the entire series as long as he stays healthy. We didn't have Brunson, Willie Caulie Stein, or Dwight Powell on the court as they were all out with varying issues. Those 3 combined account for 21.8 points 11.8 rebounds per game this season. Brunson's playmaking has been nothing short of starter caliber point guard work on almost any other team. But with the depth of this Mavs squad, he has morphed into exactly what his team needed him to be, a 6th man of the year candidate rivaled by few in this league in his efficiency and effectiveness around the basket. His shooting numbers this year have climbed well above his career averages with Brunson putting up a 52.3 FG%, 40.5 FG3%, and 79.5 FT% putting his eFG% at 58.8%. While his stats of 12.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg, and 3.5 apg aren't eye popping, they are exactly what the Mavs have needed from him as a major contributor coming off the bench. His presence allows for Luka to rest when needed without disrupting the flow of our offensive scheme.

Brunson is a fierce competitor with a team first attitude and an uncanny ability to get into the paint and score with finesse. Similarly to Brunson, Willie Caulie Stein and Dwight Powell both provide a burst of effort and energy that can be much needed for the Mavs when the team starts to falter or decay. They are all 3 players who have learned to live well within their roles and do what the team needs them to do. Having Powell as pick and roll threat will be massive for the Mavericks as Luka seeks to pick apart the constrictive defensive schemes of the Clippers. It will allow for more space for our shooters (ahem J.J. Reddick, Maxi Kleber, KP, THJ, and Dorian Finney-Smith). As if Luka doesn't already create enough space for these other guys to operate.

The fun thing about our team is that they are a 3 level scoring team. On any given night, we can have multiple guys scoring in double digits and providing a competitive edge to our offensive approach. When Luka doesn't have gas in his tank or is off on his shooting, he can find other ways to be just as devastating on offense by finding the right man on any given play. Tim Hardaway Jr. has been making a consistent and ever powerful case that the Kristaps Porzingis trade should be renamed to the Timmy trade. Nothing against our very own Unicorn who has been quite effective offensively when active and healthy. But when looking at Tim's numbers on the season, he has been putting up straight fire. Starting in only 31 of the 70 games in which he played, he was putting up 28.9 points per 100 possession basis which is a career high for him. Though his actual per game averages only break down to 16.1 points per game, Tim's impact has been severely underrated this season.

In fact, when compared to Joe Ingles who has been getting some heavy media play for 6th man of the year, it becomes even more obvious how much Timmy means to this team. TJH in 2021 averaged 16.6 points per game to Joe Ingles 12.1, while averaging fewer turnovers (0.9 to Joe's 1.7). Ingles has played better when it comes to his assists per game which stand at 4.7 to Tim's 1.8. But Tim is on a team with a bounty of playmaking ball handlers. What the Mavs ask of Tim, is to score in bunches when our team can't seem to buy a bucket. Shooters, shoot. And Tim, well he shoots a lot. In fact he took a total of 911 FGA in the 2021 season, making about .447% of them. The eFG% difference between Joe and Tim is quite dramatic as Ingles has a beautiful eFG% of .652 compared to Tim's .560 eFG% which is still nothing to sneeze at.

At the end of the day, Joe Ingles will win this award because the media is rewarding the Jazz for having the strongest record in the West and they have a hard on for efficiency. I'm not going to argue that it's a bad choice, but I would counter with a slight tone of Dallas bias, that THJ is more instrumental or vital to the Mavs success than Ingles is to the Jazz. Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 30-39 points on 4 occasions this season and over 40 points once. He scored 10-19 points 39 times this season and 20-29, a grand total of 13 times. Needless to say, he has had many high scoring games when the Mavs needed him to perform. His final 10 games in the regular season he has averaged 23 points per game which is about 7 points higher than his season ppg average. What does all this mean? Timmy is heating up at just the right time. All we can hope for now is that his entire family shows up to each of the playoff games as that has been a well-established trend within the Twitter circles that Timmy outperforms his averages by a long shot when his Dad, grandmother, or other immediate family make an appearance at.

There are so many angles in which the Dallas Mavericks could make this a spooky series for the Clippers. I’m not going to dig too deep into Kristaps Porzingis because at the end of the day, he is a bit of a question mark in this series. I believe that the Mavs have been prudently cautious in allowing him to play in order to give his body the proper rest he needs to participate in a long winded playoff run. His numbers have been fantastic though he has suffered a bit more on the defensive end due to his lessening mobility in recovering from surgery in the offseason. The simple take is that when KP does well, the Mavs win basketball games. If we get a healthy, active and team orientated KP, then I expect the Mavericks to test the limits of what the Clippers are able to do defensively. The threat of KP’s elite shooting (47.6 FG%, 37.6 FG3%) is enough to create enormous space for the other 4 Mavs on the court to operate in. When he is hitting his shots, it alleviates pressure off of Luka and allows for more court space for his teammates. When Luka and KP utilize the pick and roll, it is an absolute nightmare for defenders who are forced to choose between a potential lob-threat, rim rolling center in KP who can just as easily pop out for a quick 3 point dagger. The choices that the Clippers coaching staff will be forced to make are not easy ones as they try and clamp down defensively on this multi headed monster that is the Dallas Mavericks offense.

I haven't even begun to discuss the impact of our all-nba, all-star player Luka Doncic who has quietly established himself as a top 5 active NBA player in only his 3rd season in the NBA. What did Luka's contributions look like this season? Well if you were in a coma for the last year, then you should start by looking up the "bang - banggggggg" playoff game winner that Luka put down on the Clippers last season in the bubble. That alone is enough to have many die hard Clipper fans fearing the possibilities of a first round exit. That moment was one of what I'm sure will be many career defining moments for Luka on the NBAs largest stage. He is a natural performer who feels absolute comfort and readiness in the most meaningful minutes of any NBA game. He is the difference maker that so many teams crave and attempt to draft or trade for. In 66 starts this season, Doncic contributed to 40 wins with 26 double-doubles and 11 triple doubles.

He averaged 27.7 points per game, 8 total rebounds, and 8.6 assists shooting at a 35% from 3 point range, beating out his career average of 33.1% from 3. He made 192 3 point shots this season and that is only increasing the space in which he can pick apart a team as he slices and dices his way into the lane. He is already a master at the pick and roll, consistently making the right decisions as defenses throw everything they can at Luka to try and trip him up. When he has a bad half of basketball, he quickly adjusts and finds new ways to get the best bucket each time down the court. When Luka is engaged and playing at his best (which IMO happens when he gets angry) it is terrifying what the Mavs are capable of.

Luka shoots .708 eFG% when shooting at the rim and .507 from 3 to 10 feet with a % assisted of .18 and .051 respectively. Compare that to Giannis (2 time MVP winner) who shot .837% at the rim and .401 from 3 to 10 feet on .458 % and .376 % assisted. What does this show? It shows that Luka is damn near as good as Giannis at working in the lane and close to the basket, only he does so essentially unassisted. The dude can get buckets yall.

In previous seasons, he had spent most of his time shooting 3's of the step back or post-shot bunny hop variety, or eating near the lane. However in the last year he has also added a beautiful mid-range shooting diet to his game, finding new and clever ways (including Dirk's well known one foot step back jumper from the Dirk logo no less) to destroy the will of opposing defenders. He is 5th in the league in scoring (6th in ppg at 27.7 per game), 12th in total defensive rebounds, 5th in total assists, 5th in assists per game, 6th in free throw attempts, and let’s just throw in the 2nd in turnovers for transparency sake.

But listen guys, this kid plays and there isn't a single offensive stretch where he isn't intimately involved in the play which should be obvious when you consider that he is number 1 in the league in usage pct at 36.0. The scary thing for the league, is Doncic still has so much room for cleaning up his play, reducing turnovers, and continue to develop his impact on the defensive side of the ball. When the NBA starts to put Luka on the free throw line more in line with what they do for other well established super star talent, in combination with Luka making his free throws at a high clip, then the Mavs will be unstoppable. His inability to consistently make his free throws along with his unappealing arguments with the refs that earned him 15 techs this season, are both areas that can be fixed in time as he continues to mature as a player and learn how to navigate the complex relationships that exist between star players and NBA referees.

He has said recently that he needs to work on controlling his emotions when interacting with the NBA officials and I'm sure that as he continues to grow in the game, these nit-picky problems will dissipate along with the critical voices who still try to discount how valuable Luka is to this Dallas Mavericks team.

Luka, KP, Tim Hardaway Jr., Dorian Finney-Smith, and Dwight Powell are the likely starting squad for this Dallas Mavericks team during the playoffs. Josh Richardson has been moved to an off the bench role whether he likes it or not but will still serve as a key tool in our roster both from a defensive stand point or if we need a strong free throw shooter in a key moment. Maxi is still coming back off injury and will hopefully begin to round into form for what we need out of him on a game by game basis. Brunson fully understands his role and importance to the success of this team. DFS is typically gifted with the job of guarding the opposing team’s best player, and his late game shooting has been nothing if not clutch as he is often the open man that Luka finds as the double teams clamp down to try and force a bad play. KP is such an instrumental cog to our team and yet when he is out, we have found a way to continue to win. My hope is that he is 100% healthy and able to help us not just offensively, but become more of a presence on the defensive end. Anything is possible for this Mavericks team. We’ve proven time and time again that we should never be underestimated. From a losing record and an ESPN meme, to clinching the 5th seed in the Western Conference and winning our division. What will come next? I guess we’ll find out come this Saturday, May 22nd. See you then fellow MFFL!


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