Who will be the biggest surprise in the playoffs?
Jordan: My surprises are purely from the heart. Because I want to say Josh Richardson is the surprise — and not even for the whole series, but maybe in key moments. I want it badly for his sake (and for the Mavs duh). Or perhaps one truly incredible five minute stretch in like Game 3 from Josh Green? But if we’re looking for a realistic surprise, gimme Dorian Finney-Smith going 5-of-9 from three in a game, and the series goes 7. (edited)
Sam: My biggest surprise will be Kristaps Porzingis. Depending on who you ask, that might be a dumb or fair guess. But the fact is he’s had an inconsistent season at best. However, I think he’ll come out engaged and with a lot to prove after missing most of the playoffs last year. The optimist in me suspects he knows his body can’t handle the rigors of a condensed NBA season which led to some, shall we say, disengaged play at times. But now the training wheels are off, and it’s time to let loose. I think we’ll see a motivated and aggressive KP, which gives the Mavericks more than a puncher’s chance.
Iztok: I still haven’t lost hope in Josh Richardson. As I wrote in my series preview, this is the time to redeem his season. Dallas traded Seth Curry for Richardson with this kind of matchup in mind. Somebody to guard Paul George, a 2-way wing that can be on the floor in the playoffs. Richardson had a disappointing season, but I hope he can be a positive surprise in the playoffs. The Clippers are too good of an offensive team for Carlisle to go all-offense again and try to outscore them like he was forced to do last season. So, he’ll need competent players on both ends of the floor and hopefully Richardson can be that, even if not in a starting role. Richardson, Doncic, Finney-Smith, Kleber, Porzingis is still the most played Mavs lineup this season, and it’s the one that played both competent offense and defense, based on all lineup data.
Xavier: If Kleber isn’t fully healthy, we need to believe it would be Richardson. He is the only other perimeter defender on the roster. Kawhi has proven he’s too physical for Dorian Finney-Smith. Carlisle will have to play Richardson regardless of whether he has the hot hand on offense. If he can play within himself and knock down timely shots, he may end up being the x-factor.
Ben: Josh Green will be unleashed on the Clippers’ wings. He’s raw and inexperienced, but he’s got size and energy, something the Mavericks have lacked at times this season. He’s limited on offense, but Rick Carlisle can figure out how to make it work. I can see a lineup of Doncic, Porzingis, Hardaway, Finney-Smith, and Green working for short spells. If anything, the chaotic energy Green plays with will at least disrupt the Clippers for a few minutes.
Matthew: My biggest surprise is the degree to which the Clippers propensity to concede unnecessary switches will be their undoing. Everyone knows Luka is awesome and for the Mavericks to have a chance he will have to dominate. But I have seen it mentioned multiple places that the Clippers are uniquely equipped to bother him. It is true that the Clippers are theoretically equipped with an absurd collection of big wing defenders, but they do not use them in a manner that will bother Luka unless they are going to completely abandon the defensive scheme they have played all season. The Clippers concede switches on virtually every screen which means that Luka gets to choose his defender like a patron at a restaurant ordering off a menu. And while Paul George, Kawhi Leonard and Marcus Morris appears to be a daunting gauntlet of defenders, Reggie Jackson, Rajon Rondo, Patrick Beverly and Serge Ibaka are not (Zubac was left off as he has done a solid job on Luka). I also believe that this propensity to switch unnecessarily will be a key in getting Porzingis going. Running multiple ball screens per possession should allow the Mavs to get the small guards listed above on Porzingis and while I do not want the offense to bog down to repeated Porzingis post ups, he absolutely can punish these players with limited post ups and attacking the offensive glass.
Tim: Jalen Brunson. We didn’t get to see him in last year’s playoffs vs the Clippers but a big surprise I could see happening is that he makes a big impact in the series - in leading the second unit or scoring big time buckets with the closing lineup in clutch games. Length has bothered Brunson in the past and Clippers have a million wing defenders to switch with, but Jalen’s offensive midrange game will be huge in this series if he can get in pick-and-rolls with Ibaka or Zubac playing drop coverage. He’s going to have to get after it on the defensive side of the floor too, containing Rajon Rondo or Reggie Jackson - which I think he can do.
Kirk: Josh Green’s going to play. I don’t know what game, but there will be a moment like in the 2011 second round game one, when Corey Brewer entered the game and changed the entire tone of the Dallas playoffs. He plays hard and the Mavericks are going to need that spark. Maybe this is just me putting a hope out into the universe.