The last several months I’ve come to describe how the Mavericks and Clippers match up like this: the Los Angeles Clippers were designed to beat the Los Angeles Lakers. The Mavericks are, at their core, a B or B+ version of the Lakers at best. Therefore, the Clippers are built to swallow the Mavericks whole.
There are likely solid arguments against this assessment, but the fact remains that in two contests against the Clippers, Dallas lost both. The first was humiliating, with Luka Doncic getting engulfed by a ruthless, long and active Los Angeles defense. There were times in that game where Luka, an other-worldly passer and game manager, started second guessing looks which had become natural through a season of NBA basketball. It’s the first time I can recall Doncic leaving a game without talking to the media.
So it comes as little surprise that in an ESPN Best and Worst Case scenario piece for NBA Bubble teams, Tim MacMahon had this to say as far as the worst case scenario for the Mavericks:
The Mavs stay in the No. 7 seed and get spanked by the Clippers in the first round. Dallas’ preseason goal was to get back to the playoffs after a three-year drought, but it’d be disappointing if the Mavs aren’t competitive in the postseason after showing so much promise this season.
He notes the best case scenario involves Dallas playing literally anyone else. It mainly comes down to questioning what we’d learn from Dallas playing the Clippers. The Mavericks are a team on the rise, but playing a team that is structured to dismantle them only serves to drive both Dallas and the fans crazy. There’s already a bubbling narrative questioning whether Luka Doncic can play how he has in the regular season and win a playoff series. A series loss to the Clippers would increase the volume on that take exponentially, despite it being a terrible take.
Besides, we wouldn’t learn much from a Mavericks-Clippers series, past the obvious “Clippers are better than the Mavericks”. It would be great if we could see a number of games against the Nuggets, Rockets, or Jazz, anything where we could start to draw conclusions about what specific things the Mavericks need to improve. Learning about how this roster deals with adversity is key to determining which players are part of the longer building process. Watching Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, two of the best wing defenders in the league, frustrate Luka doesn’t help answer those questions.
If the Mavericks have one goal past just making the playoffs, it must be to do what they can in this limited eight game seeding window to move up in the standings. Otherwise Mavericks fans might be for a maddening playoff experience.