After dropping two straight at home the Mavericks return to Los Angeles to try and regain some footing in their first round series against the Los Angeles Clippers. The four games have featured wild swings of momentum — it was not so long ago that the Mavericks looked to be fully in control of this now dead-even series.
But after a 106-81 thumping on Sunday, Rick Carlisle and his staff are tasked with making the adjustments necessary to turn the tables. There are plenty of questions entering Wednesday night’s game, but this is what we’ll be watching for, in what feels like a must-win for the Mavs.
Luka Doncic’s health
Now more than ever it’s clear that the Mavericks’ success starts and ends with Luka Doncic. It was evident in Sunday’s game that he was not comfortable, still suffering from a shoulder-neck injury sustained in the Friday night Game 3 loss. Doncic has described his cervical straing as being nerve related, which is troubling, though reports on Monday suggest Doncic could be feeling better.
On Tuesday, Carlisle was a bit evasive, saying, “I don’t know if he’s 80 percent, if he’s 85 percent. You’d have to ask him, but it does appear that he’s doing better.”
The Mavericks need Doncic in every form and fashion. They need his playmaking just as much as his scoring. And an injury like this can throw a wrench in both areas. This will ultimately be the most important storyline for the Mavericks tonight.
Stay in your lane...or keep them out
The Mavericks were frigidly cold shooting the ball on Sunday, made uncomfortable by an aggressive Clippers defensive attack. It is near impossible to win a playoff game while shooting 5-of-30 from three. But it’s going to get a whole lot harder if you’re willing to escort your opponent to the basket on every possession.
The Mavericks gave up 44 points in the paint Sunday, guiding Kawhi Leonard and Paul George through the lane like ushers at a Vera Matovic concert. The Clippers shot 55-percent from inside the three point line, getting any clean look they desired. Are they a solid offensive team? Absolutely. But the Mavericks have to find a way to put up a fight and at least make them work for some of these looks.
Carlisle trotted out a couple counter-attacks Sunday for offensive firepower with early subs Boban Marjanovic and Trey Burke. But he will need to find rotations of schemes that can trip up the Clippers attack, otherwise they will make quick work of the Mavericks tonight. Whether that’s inserting fresh legs into the game, or countering with some zone looks, the Mavericks need to dig deep on the defensive end.
Doncic needs his supporting cast on offense. Maybe they won’t set every net on fire like they did in Games 1 and 2, but the group around Luka needs to be better. It was inevitable that they would have an off-night in the series. And now the real test begins: rediscovering their rhythm.
The key role players — Tim Hardaway Jr., Kristaps Porzingis, Dorian Finney-Smith, Maxi Kleber, Jalen Brunson, and Josh Richardson — shot 4-of-20 from three on Sunday after going 13-of-26 in Game 3. We can debate all day and night (and we have!) about how Porzingis fits in the offense and whether or not something drastic needs to change. But there’s little doubt that he, and this crew of shooters, need to be on their A game to give the Mavericks a shot in LA.
How to watch
Tip off is set for 9 p.m. CT, and can be watched on TNT or Bally Sports Southwest.
Here’s the game 5 preview podcast, Mavs Moneyball After Dark. If you can’t see the embed below “More from Mavs Moneyball”, click here. And if you haven’t yet, subscribe by searching “Mavs Moneyball podcast” into your favorite podcast app.