By William Coolidge
As of this writing, the Dallas Mavericks and the Golden State Warriors have yet to begin their battle against each other in the Western Conference Finals, game 1 of the series is tonight. Unlike the Eastern Conference, where the two teams remaining are also the top 2 seeds of their conference, this Western Conference Finals series features the #3 seeded Warriors vs. the #4 seeded Mavericks. Now, if I were a superstitious man, this factor alone would lead me to pick the Mavericks to win this series as the last time a WCF (Western Conference Finals) didn’t feature either the #1 or the #2 seed, in 2011, the Mavericks as the #3 seed beat the #4 seed OKC Thunder. But perhaps another pattern can be derived from that, a precedent informing us that when a #3 and #4 seed matchup in the WCF, the #3 seed walks away as the victor. Which, if we were going off that logic, would mean the Warriors would win as they are the #3 seed and the Mavericks are the #4 seed this year. Two grand contradictions there. Luckily for me, I am not of the superstitious kind, so I don’t have to choose the greater of these two reasonings when deciding my pick for who is going to win this series.
Analysis: The Mavericks, just as the Celtics in the East, have surprised me these whole playoffs. I initially had them losing in the 1st round to the Utah Jazz, but even with an injured Luka who missed a few games, the Mavericks still beat them. Even in the second round, I had them losing to the Suns, however, they not only won but they did so with an absolutely crushing victory in game 7. I don’t give myself too much flack for that one since everyone and their mamas thought the Suns would win. For this, the Mavericks have officially proven themselves to me. I am no longer writing them off, despite their seemingly tremendous flaws. On the Warriors’ side of things, their game plan should and probably will be to limit everybody else on the Mavericks except Luka Dončić. I’m not saying they flat-out won’t guard Luka (that’s foolish), it’s just that…you literally can’t. There are three certainties in life: death, taxes, and Luka Dončić putting the ball in the basket. I mean yes, you can send a double-team or play heavy help to keep Luka from scoring but this gameplan is dangerous, especially against a team loaded top-to-bottom with snipers as the Mavericks are. The Warrior’s best bet is to let Andrew Wiggins, Klay, Porter, or whoever ends up on Luka, to guard him straight up, perhaps send some help, and hope that can suffice. It hurts the Warriors that Gary Payton II got injured last round, the Dubs could use his pesky defense to disrupt Luka. But I think it’s most important to not let the other guys on the Mavericks score, especially Spencer Dinwiddie. I saw the Warriors go up by 20 points or so this season and end up losing the game because Spencer Dinwiddie got hot and brought the Mavericks back into the game. Spencer Dinwiddie did it last series against the Suns too, torching them in game 7. All-in-all, one man usually can’t beat you and so I fully expect Luka to average 35 points per game and to an extent I welcome it…as long as the other guys on the team like super streaky Spender or Jalen Brunson don’t notch high-scoring spurts or games, and guys like Dorian Finney-Smith or Davis Bertans don’t knock down 5 or 6 threes. A downside for the Warriors this series is that Draymond Green probably won’t be able to act in his full defensive potential as Dray hangs his hat on extraordinary help defense, unlike anyone else in the league, and its harder to play help defense against the Mavericks than almost any team in the league because of the sheer amount of high-efficiency shooters they have. If you are a Warriors player and help off your man, Luka is finding that guy left open on the perimeter for an easy three-pointer. The Mavericks got their fair share of things to worry about though as well. For starters, as good of a team defense they’ve had thus far these playoffs, I don’t think they have the personnel on that side of the floor to hang with the flamethrower of an offense the Warriors have, especially with the lineup of Curry, Poole, Klay, Wiggins, and Draymond. It is hard to conceive who on the Mavericks is going to be guarding who because if you put your best wing defender, Dorian Finney-Smith, on Curry or Poole, then that very well might leave Brunson on Klay or Wiggins who will abuse that matchup with post-fades or other post-up variations. In general though, besides specific matchups, the Warriors’ offense is incredibly lethal and I think the Mavericks will have a hard time dealing with that. Especially if the Warriors choose to attack Luka in hopes of tiring him out or getting him in foul trouble. This is a strategy I would use if I were the Warriors. Neither of these teams has to worry about big matchups and things dealing with that as both teams don’t have dominant “big men”. The Warriors have to be careful, it doesn’t matter if they are up 1 point or 20, they need to continuously press on the gas because if you let up even a little, this Mavericks team will make you pay. Overall, with the Mavericks’ playstyle, it’s only natural they go a couple of games or so where their shot isn’t falling, and in turn, these games are most likely losses for them. With that in mind, I already know they’re bound to lose a game or so. This logic plays a big part in my rationale for whom I think will win the series.
Conclusion: The Warriors beat the Mavericks and win the series in 6 games. A 4-2 series.
Note: If the series ends up going to 7 games, I think the Mavericks win in that specific scenario.