The Dallas Mavericks will try to keep their head above water Friday night when they host the Phoenix Suns at the American Airlines Center for Game 3 of their second round series. The Suns have left little doubt why they were the best team in the entire league for the regular season. The Mavericks dropped Game 1 after a late-effort comeback, then were blown out of the water in the fourth quarter of Game 2. This makes their third matchup an absolute must-win. Dallas finds themselves two point underdogs as of this writing, despite playing at home.
The Mavericks gave up a 9-0 run to the Suns at the start of both games. Phoenix came out aggressive to start the series, which nearly forgives Game 1’s start. Dallas was entering a new environment, with the majority of the roster playing in the second round for the first time and following a series against a Utah Jazz team nearing implosion. But it was shocking to see it play out the same way on Wednesday night.
The team is already trotting out a shortened rotation, so having to play catch up from the tip puts unneeded additional strain. If the Mavericks were to make an adjustment before Friday’s game it would be to remove Dwight Powell from the starting lineup:
The Mavericks are -28 in Powell's 28 minutes this series... +1 in the other 68 minutes. adjustment number 1 isnt rocket science— Matthew Phillips (@Matthewp7741) May 5, 2022
The team has been at its best on both ends of the floor through nine playoff games when they play five-out offense and a fluid defense. That means playing Maxi Kleber at the five, or going ultra small with Dorian Finney-Smith. Numbers like the one above only confirm an eye test that the starts to each half have been rough, and unfortunately there is one thing to point to. It will be interesting to see if head coach Jason Kidd makes the move.
Another strain on the rotation has been the early foul trouble from key contributors. Game 1 it was Reggie Bullock, then Dorian Finney-Smith and Jalen Brunson in Game 2. The whistle evened out throughout both games, but having to hold any of these players out early in a hotly contested game is a tough blow. Even if none of these players is playing particularly well, there are few options behind them.
The twist to this is the Mavericks need to be aggressive defensively to try and disrupt a Suns team that is absolutely scorching, particularly in the midrange. How do the Mavericks marry that aggression with less fouling? And how does Kidd manage rotations once the whistle starts blowing?
Countering the mismatch
Luka Doncic was gassed as he entered the fourth quarter of Game 2. His usage in the offense was astronomical and the Suns had already done a decent job of forcing him into tough actions defensively. That is when their fourth quarter execution really ramped up and Doncic got picked on in isolation against Chris Paul for what felt like five straight minutes.
Kidd didn’t call a timeout, and just tried hiding Doncic on a variety of different Suns floor spacers. But it didn’t matter. By that point the damage was done. How aggressive will the Mavericks be in providing support for Doncic in those situations? They could try to pre-switch or zone help behind him. Or maybe they’ll try and push out traps on the ball early, like they did against players like Kevin Durant in the regular season. Those traps won’t be sustainable for a full 48 minutes. But they need to find a counter.
How to watch
Tip-off follows the early game and is set for 8:30 CT. It can be watched on ESPN.
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