Luka Doncic and the Mavericks have a formula for harassing Phoenix
The Mavericks are also missing center Nerlens Noel and center and small forward Luka Doncic. This doesn’t look like the same 64-win Suns who overtook the rest of the league in the regular season. Phoenix lost three of their last four when Dallas drew their second-round streak Thursday night with three games apiece. The Suns led 2-0 in Game 2 behind Chris Paul and Devin Booker with 58 points, making Dallas’ end of the playoffs imminent. Paul has amassed 25 points in the last three games.
Dallas finished 20th in the defensive standings last season, losing 126 points in a Game 7 defeat to the Clippers in a first-round match. He and his staff lured Dallas into the top-10 defense in his first season as manager and, after Kristaps Porzingis’ departure, the Mavericks found the pace.
Still, the Mavericks aren’t done yet. They’ll need to play nearly flawless basketball on the road to get their second-round matchup with the Blazers or Spurs, and they’ll need to do so without Luka Doncic, who is questionable with a strained muscle in his thigh. Doncic is a generational talent, and he’s gone a combined 10 for 11 from three-point range in the playoffs over the last two seasons.
The Mavs aren’t concerned that two of their top three starters are injured heading into what could be the Mavericks’ biggest road playoff win since Dirk Nowitzki and company knocked off the Grizzlies in the 2012 Western Conference semifinals. Instead, the Mavs are more concerned that this group, which won the lottery a second time when Nowitzki left, hasn’t played as well as they’ve played as a group throughout their entire season.
Dallas is 12–1 when Nowitzki starts at least 50 games and 0–3 when he doesn’t. The Mavs have a 13–1 record in games in which he gets at least 20 points, including an 11–0 record when Nowitzki scores at least 25 points. But the Mavericks are 2–7 when Nowitzki starts games with a sub-20 ppg average, and they’re 0–3 when he’s below 17 ppg. Dallas is 9–0 in games in which they win by 15 or more points, but they’re just 4–7 in games in which they lose by 15 or more points.
This isn’t the Dallas team that won 67 games and was a top seed in the West. The Mavs have won just two games with Nowitzki off the court this season, and in the 10 games in which he’s played without Nowitzki, the Mav s are 4–6.
If you’re betting on a Mavericks winning this series, it doesn’t matter which series they come out of — Dallas is tough to beat at home and even tougher on the road. But these teams haven’t played at home since Jan. 16, when they beat the Spurs to finish off a sweep. The Mavericks are 5–4 at home this postseason and are undefeated on their home floor in playoff games since Nowitzki retired.
“You ’ve got to understand when they play us on the road, it’s not the same game,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “It’s the same game when they come to our arena, but when they come to our arena, it’s not what we usually play.”