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The Mavericks know they’re the underdogs against the Suns

Dallas faces its biggest challenge of the season.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Dallas Mavericks Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Mavericks are in the second round of the playoffs for the first time in 11 years. After knocking off the Utah Jazz, Dallas will face the top seeded Phoenix Suns, helmed by future Hall of Famer Chris Paul.

While there is plenty to celebrate after advancing and getting the monkey off their back, the Mavericks are under no illusions about the difficulties ahead. Nothing gets easier for them, and they know that many are already counting them out.

“No one is going to favor us or give us a chance in this series,” Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd said. “We’ve just got to take one possession at a time, continue to have fun, execute, and play hard and see what happens.”

Phoenix owned the regular season series against Dallas, winning it 3-0. The games were not particularly close either, with the Suns averaging 108.7 points on 46.9 percent shooting compared to the Mavericks’ 101 points and 42 percent shooting.

There’s a reason the Suns were the best team in the league this year. During the regular season, they had the fifth best offensive rating, 114.2, and the third best defensive rating, 106.8. In the playoffs, they’ve shown an improved offense with a 117.8 rating, but their defense is only eleventh best at 115.6.

“It’s going to be really tough,” Luka Doncic said. “They’re the No. 1 team in the NBA. They went to the Finals last year. So, it’s going to be really tough for us. I think we have to play great games to beat them–almost perfect games. We just did the scouting, we’re going to follow the game plan, and we’re got to play hard.”

Doncic didn’t play against the Suns in two games. In the one he did, he scored 28 points, pulled down eight rebounds and had eight assists. Good numbers, but they don’t tell the whole story. Phoenix held him to just 39.1 percent from the floor and 22.2 percent from deep. He posted an offensive rating of 91.

The Suns will try to make it difficult for Doncic again. He knows that he will have a lot to overcome as he goes against one of the top perimeter defenders in the league.

“I think it’s going to be a big challenge for me,” Doncic said. “They have [Mikal] Bridges. I know he’s going to be on me. He’s the best, if not maybe top-two, guard defender. I think maybe him and [Marcus] Smart. Really, it’s tough against him. His defense is amazing. It really impresses me.”

While Bridges’ defense and active hands will pester Doncic, the Mavericks need to be mindful of protecting the ball in general. Phoenix averaged 8.6 steals per game in the regular season and forced 14.7 turnovers.

“The biggest thing is we have to take care of the ball,” Kidd said. “We can’t turn the ball over against them. If you turn it over, they’re running for threes or layups, and that just puts you in a bad situation. We got to continue to take care of the ball and understand that the first matchup might not be the one we want. Just be patient to get the matchup we want.”

Patience will be imperative. The Mavericks cannot get ahead of themselves facing a team loaded with talent. They will have to elevate their play on both sides of the ball and play as hard as they can on every possession.

Oddsmakers and most pundits don’t think Dallas to win the series–BetOnline lists them with +240 odds–but plenty of people didn’t believe they could beat the Jazz either. If they stick together, they will have a puncher’s chance.

“I think a lot of people said we couldn’t win,” Doncic said about playing Utah. “I heard it a lot. I was always confident. I always thought we were going to win. Everybody showed up. Everybody that stepped on the court played hard. I think it kept us together the whole time.”