The fifth-seed Mavericks are set for their second playoff series in as many years against the LA Clippers. Despite a slew of injuries and absences for Dallas last season, the series was fairly competitive as it stretched to six games. Luka Doncic had an impressive series, which included perhaps the biggest moment of his career as he hit a game-winning shot in Game 4 of last year’s series. That experience under the NBA’s bright lights is something head coach Rick Carlisle sees as an asset.
“There’s no substitute for experience,” Carlisle said on Doncic entering his second NBA playoffs. “The fact that we’re playing the same team that’s structured with eye-level similarity, there are some things to draw on for sure.”
“I know he’s looking forward to the playoffs. This is the kind of challenge that he relishes.”
The Mavericks remained competitive last year, but this year is about more than that. Carlisle, as well as fans of the team, are hoping to see progression that hopefully leads to a win.
“We want to build on whatever progress we made last year — having a competitive series, for the most part — but we want to build on that and get better,” Carlisle said on where to go from last year’s performance.
Even with the experience and exposure to the Clippers, this series will admittedly be no easy task.
“The Clippers are a great team,” Carlisle said on his upcoming opponent. “They’ve got two superstar players and they’ve got a lot of great role players and help around them so this will be a great challenge for us.”
A big part of that challenge is obviously the world-class talent of Kawhi Leonard. Even with a poor shooting performance, Leonard made it look easy against the Mavericks last postseason as he averaged 32.8 points, 10.2 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game in the series. If the Mavericks want to give themselves the best chance possible, it would be great to get Maxi Kleber back in the lineup as he battles an Achilles injury.
“It’s important if at all possible that Maxi can be available,” Carlisle said on one of his top defenders. “Kawhi Learnord’s a top player in the world . . . we’ve gotta try and make it hard as possible on him. Maxi’s unique in that he’s got real good size and length and he moves his feet well.”
If Kleber is unavailable or under some sort of minutes restriction, it’s fair to assume that Dorian Finney-Smith would assume the responsibility of guarding Leonard.
“Just make it tough for him,” Finney-Smith said on defending Leonard. “He’s not overly fast but he’s strong. He makes a lot of those pull-up twos that we wanna give teams, but he makes those shots. We just gotta make it hard for him.”
Another key for Dallas will be controlling the glass, especially containing Ivica Zubac, who averaged 11.2 points and 7.0 rebounds per game against the Mavericks last series while also playing good defense.
“We got hurt very badly on the boards last year and that’s gonna be a big part of this series,” Carlisle said. “We’re gonna have to do a much better job at keeping Zubac off the glass.”
It should help that Dallas likely gets Kristaps Porzingis back after he missed the tail-end of last postseason.
“I was heartbroken,” Porzinigs said on shutting down after three games. “You want to leave everything out there and I just couldn’t warm up the knee. It was one of the worst feelings I’ve had.”
Regardless of all the challenges this series presents, the Mavericks are ready to make a statement.
“This means a lot to us,” Dwight Powell said. “Regardless of what’s happened in the past, just for us to be able to battle through some of the adversity we had . . . it’s doubly important for us to show up and compete at the highest level.”
This Mavericks team might be inexperienced in the postseason, but the roster still feels as if they can make some noise.
“We are a dangerous team, we truly believe that,” Porzingis said on his team. “We have the tools, we just don’t have the experience yet. It’s good that we had that first taste of defeat last offseason and we’re looking forward to taking a step forward in this series.”
Dallas needs to focus on what’s in front of them, but the overall goal remains the same: getting back to where they stood a decade ago.
“I keep getting questions about ‘Is there pressure to advance?’ — hell yea there’s pressure to advance,” Carlisle said on the upcoming series. “This is a difficult series, it’s a tough series, but we’re a championship organization and we’re not just looking to advance one round in the playoffs. Ultimately, our goal is always to win a championship.”