The Dallas Mavericks will pay another visit to Vivint Arena Saturday afternoon for Game 4 of their first round series with the Utah Jazz. After back-to-back dramatic victories the Mavericks lead the series 2-1, carrying the momentum into what could be an all-but-deciding fourth game.
The playoffs are about adjustments, big or small, and even with how well the Mavericks have played recently there is room for improvement. The Jazz may need to pull out all the stops to even the series. As of this writing the Mavericks are 5 point underdogs, but that may be because Luka Doncic’s status is still uncertain. If he gets put on the injury report as probable, expect that to swing.
Preparing for Doncic’s return
The headline of the entire series back to game 82 of the regular season is whether or not Luka Doncic would be healthy enough to play, as he recovers from a calf strain. Progress on his rehabilitation seemed to ramp up in the middle of the week, and his status prior to Game 3 was upgraded to “Questionable”. Though he ultimately sat out of Thursday’s game, his improvement has led many to believe his return is imminent.
In the event he does return, it will be worth keeping an eye on how his presence impacts the Mavericks’ rhythm on both ends. Offensively it likely means Spencer Dinwiddie heads back to the bench. The style of play shouldn’t change significantly, depending on how confident Doncic feels on that leg. But it’s on the defensive end where change could take place. These games have been a back and forth of both teams trying to exploit isolated mismatches. Though Jalen Brunson and the team shooting have been the headline of the two wins, the Mavericks ability to force the Jazz into weak areas of the floor to score has been the real engine of success. Don’t be surprised if Utah makes Doncic work especially hard defensively and test his lateral movement. Jason Kidd, assistant coach Sean Sweeney, and the Mavericks have been on top of making defensive adjustments throughout the series, so this may be their next great test.
The Utah Jazz made an overwhelming run in the third quarter of Game 3, largely after head coach Quinn Snyder opted to move Jazz starting center Rudy Gobert to the bench. Utah went small, using Eric Paschall as a stretch five, and often had a runway through the lane to score. Paschall wasn’t the scorer on most plays — just six points, but a +9 in 10 minutes of play — but the change in dynamic forced the Mavericks into some tough switches.
It should be noted that this run also took place when both Dwight Powell and Maxi Kleber battled foul trouble. All of this might be solved for Dallas if one of those two are on the floor rather than Davis Bertans. But if the Mavericks face a similar situation Saturday how do they counter?
I will look for one of two things to happen, with the assumption that Doncic is available: the Mavericks go ultra small, essentially playing an all-wing lineup and removing Bertans from the fold; OR they lean on a Doncic-Powell pick-and-roll game while Gobert sits, to try and run Paschall off the floor. If Doncic doesn’t play the Mavericks will certainly need Bertans’ minutes, and will need to find ways to support him when he inevitably is targeted. These are the interesting chess matches in the playoffs.
Winning the turnovers
The Mavericks have taken remarkable care of the ball over the first three games. It is a combination of their efficiency and the Jazz putting virtually no pressure on the ball. On the series the Mavericks have just 19 turnovers to the Jazz’s 39 — that is a steep margin. It helps when Jalen Brunson has had just three in three games.
Winning in a hectic road environment during the playoffs is no easy task, but staying ahead on this front is key. If the Mavericks can manage this aspect of the game well, and continue to shoot the ball at a solid rate, there is no reason they can’t head back to Dallas with a 3-1 lead.
How to watch
Tip-off is set for 3:30 CT and can be watched on TNT or BSSW.
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