The Golden State Warriors and Dallas Mavericks are set to meet in the 2022 NBA Playoffs Western Conference Finals, starting in San Francisco on Wednesday (9 ET, DTT) with both teams arriving here after riding some bumpy roads.
The Warriors finished as the No. 3 seed in the conference despite Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green sharing just 11 combined minutes in the regular season amid overlapping injuries. They dispatched the Denver Nuggets in five games in the first round to meet a young and physical team from the second-seeded Memphis Grizzlies who challenged them to six games.
The Mavericks finished with the fourth seed and remained relatively optimistic that the brilliance of Luka Doncic, the arrival of Jason Kidd and a midseason trade would finally help them get past the first round. They did it, knocking out the Utah Jazz in six games and then upsetting the top-seeded Phoenix Suns in seven — a team that had set a franchise record with 64 league wins this regular season.
3 things to watch
1. The Warriors expect a fuller roster. Warriors coach Steve Kerr cleared NBA health and safety protocols after missing Games 4, 5 and 6 against Memphis. Veteran Warriors forward Andre Iguodala could return as early as Friday in Game 2 after missing the Warriors’ last seven playoff games, including the entire series against Memphis, with a neck injury. And the Warriors expect forward Otto Porter Jr. to appear in Game 1 after missing the last two games with right foot pain.
Clearly, the Warriors’ success rests primarily with Curry, Thompson and Green. But the other additions could have a huge trickle down effect. Kings standby head coach Mike Brown offered experience, solid preparation and defensive expertise, but Kerr showed unique offensive creativity and presence as a guide to their previous race of three championships. Not only did the Warriors miss out on Iguodala’s playoff experience and Porter’s versatility, but 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 surpass himself? It seems inevitable that the Warriors will soon feel the pain that the LA Clippers, Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns have all experienced. No team has a solution for Doncic, especially in the playoffs.
The Clippers survived a first-round nightmare against Doncic in 2020 (31 ppg; 50.0 FG%) and 2021 (35.7 ppg; 49.0 FG%) only because they had Kawhi Leonard while Doncic had little help. This year, Doncic has dominated against the Jazz (29.0 ppg; 46.9%) and Suns (32.2 ppg; 45.7 FG%) while also relying on his supporting cast.
After facing other thankless tasks against Denver center Nikola Jokic and Memphis guard Ja Morant, the Warriors have experience handling a seemingly impossible defensive mission. Expect the Warriors to throw multiple bodies at Doncic, big (Green, Porter, Kevon Looney) and small (Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins). Expect the Warriors to put Doncic to work on defense against one of the Splash Brothers. Expect the Warriors to tolerate an outburst from Doncic as long as no other Mavericks player experiences the same high score. That forces any combination of Jalen Brunson, Dorian Finney-Smith and Spencer Dinwiddie to relieve Doncic as they have done occasionally during this playoff series.
3. What help will Curry, Thompson and Green need? Will this year’s Warriors have the same “Unity is Strength” identity as their previous teams?
The Warriors saw third-year guard Jordan Poole flourish in three playoff starts against Denver and serve as a key reserve against Memphis, only to fade in the final games of each series. The Warriors ran rookie Jonathan Kuminga into double-digit minutes in three games against Memphis before limiting his playing time for the remainder of the series, although Iguodala and Porter were hampered by injuries.
All of these players will have opportunities to become the X factor against Dallas. Due to the uncertainty of those moving parts, however, the Warriors may need their stars to produce more effectively than they did against Memphis. Curry, Thompson and Green all showed their greatness, especially in a decisive Game 6. But they also worked through nights of shooting and sloppy turnovers.
Number to know
22.4 — This series will be a contrast of styles. A team plays quickly and moves the ball. The other plays slowly and usually keeps the ball in the hands of one guy.
The Mavs lead the playoffs in time of possession, averaging 22.4 minutes of possession over their first 12 games. For the third straight year, Luka Doncic leads the playoffs in individual possession time (10.0 minutes per game).
The Warriors, meanwhile, sit 14th at just 20.2 minutes in possession, with no one in the top 10 among individuals. They rank first in player movement (18.3 miles covered in 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 four regular season meetings. Golden State led the regular season with 369 assists per 24 minutes of possession, but their 345 per 24 against the Mavs was their lowest rate against any opponent in the Western Conference. Stephen Curry played in all four matches, but Draymond Green only played in one of the four.
Doncic improved by maximizing his individual dominance and elevating his teammates. Even though the Mavs have developed far better chemistry than Doncic could ever foster with Kristaps Porzingis, however, the Warriors’ depth should prove too much to overcome. Warriors in 6.
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Mark Medina is a senior writer/analyst for NBA.com. You can email him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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