Jason Kidd coached a fantastic season and was in the upper echelon of coaches. He improved the Mavericks’ culture by leaps and bounds and led a coaching staff which vastly improved the defense.
He needs to make adjustments in this series, starting yesterday. Dwight Powell is a good basketball player, but he cannot play in this series, or at least not start. He provides all of the weaknesses of a traditional big without providing the strengths and that’s been highlighted against Phoenix. The decision to play a traditional big is generally a question of if improved rim protection and rebounding is worth losing spacing and ball handling. Powell has one rebound in two games. Marquese Chriss has more rebounds than Powell despite playing a total of five minutes. Powell has not blocked a shot or gotten a steal. The Suns are shooting 70.6 percent at the rim when Powell is the closest defender.
The Mavericks have a net rating of +10.51 with Luka on the court and and Powell off in the playoffs. That number falls to - 3.27 with Powell on the court with Luka. Powell is a valuable player during the regular season, but because of Deandre Ayton’s size and athleticism, Powell’s ability as a lob threat is neutered. Without that lob threat, Powell provides no offensive value.
All of this means Maxi Kleber must start. The Mavericks have played 79 minutes with Luka and Maxi Kleber on the court and Dwight Powell off the court in the playoffs. The Mavericks have a net rating of +11.49 in those minutes. Kleber is a better defender than Powell and a floor spacer since he has rediscovered his jumper.
Playing Kleber should also open up the floor more for Jalen Brunson. Brunson struggled so far because the Suns shrink the court with their length and athleticism. Playing Kleber mitigates that to some extent by forcing them to honor all five offensive players.
The Mavericks must help Luka defensively. Doncic was horrendous defensively in Game 2 and he deserves some blame for that, but he cannot be asked to handle every possession on both ends. The Mavericks did not vary their pick and roll coverages at all. The Suns were allowed to come down and set a token ball screen with whomever Luka was covering. Luka then switched the screen and Chris Paul or Devin Booker dribbled to wherever they wanted to shoot from. The Mavericks can and must try more varied looks.
Finally, the Mavericks were far too content to commit fouls. Reggie Miller mentioned that Kidd told him that the Mavericks might commit a foul on the opening tip off as an attempt to show their aggression. It is important to set a tone, but the Mavericks are not deep enough to withstand foul trouble. Dorian Finney-Smith is one of the most important players on the team, and he committed his third foul in the first quarter. Jalen Brunson had early foul trouble which hurt his rhythm. Fouls happen. The Mavericks cannot court them though.
Josh Green has contributed three rebounds in this series. Those are the entirety of his statistical contributions in 22 minutes. He has not even attempted a shot. This means that the Mavericks have six usable players in this series plus the prayer that Davis Bertans is hot. When you only have six players, it does not make sense to intentionally hobble any of them by committing fouls.
All is not lost. The Suns are the more talented team and were rightfully favored. They deserve credit for how incredibly special they are as a team. But having this many obvious adjustments means that there are ways for the Mavericks to make this series closer. The Mavericks are -28 in Powell’s 28 minutes in this series. They are +1 in all other minutes.
The solutions are sometimes as simple as they appear. The Mavericks have been a very versatile team all season. Players have willingly sacrificed for the good of the team, and this series requires that they do so once again. Once the Mavericks make some adjustments, they will have a fighting chance.