The Golden State Warriors and Dallas Mavericks will meet in the 2022 NBA Playoffs Western Conference Finals, which kick off in San Francisco on Wednesday (9ET, TNT) with both teams arriving here after traveling over bumpy roads.
The Warriors finished the conference’s No. 3 seed despite Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green sharing just 11 combined regular-season minutes amid overlapping injuries. They dispatched the Denver Nuggets in five games in the first round only to meet a young and physical second-seeded Memphis Grizzlies who challenged them to six games.
The Mavericks finished with the fourth seed and clung to relative optimism that the brilliance of Luka Doncic, the arrival of Jason Kidd and a midseason trade would finally get them past the first round. They did, defeating the Utah Jazz in six games and then upsetting the top-seeded Phoenix Suns in seven, a team that had set a franchise record with 64 league wins this regular season.
3 things to see
1. The Warriors are hoping for a more complete roster. Warriors coach Steve Kerr approved the NBA’s Health and Safety Protocols after missing Games 4, 5 and 6 against Memphis. Warriors veteran forward Andre Iguodala could return as soon as Friday in Game 2 after missing the Warriors’ last seven playoff games, including the entire series against Memphis, with a neck injury. And the Warriors are hoping forward Otto Porter Jr. will appear in Game 1 after missing the past two games with sore right foot.
Clearly, the Warriors’ success rests largely on Curry, Thompson and Green. But the other additions could have a great trickle-down effect. The Kings’ pending head coach, Mike Brown, offered experience, solid preparation and defensive prowess, but Kerr brings unique offensive creativity and presence to guide his previous three-championship run. The Warriors not only missed Iguodala’s playoff experience and Porter’s versatility, they also became more vulnerable with fewer forward options. The Warriors may not have to worry about such issues against Dallas.
2. How will Luka Doncic overcome himself? It seems inevitable that the Warriors will soon feel the pain that the LA Clippers, Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns experienced. No team has a solution for Doncic, particularly in the playoffs.
The Clippers survived a first-round nightmare against Doncic in 2020 (31 ppg; 50.0 FG%) and 2021 (35.7 ppg; 49.0 FG%) only because they had Kawhi Leonard while Doncic had little help. This year, Doncic dominated against the Jazz (29.0 ppg; 46.9%) and the Suns (32.2 ppg; 45.7 FG%) while also leaning on his supporting cast.
After facing other thankless tasks against Denver center Nikola Jokic and Memphis guard Ja Morant, the Warriors have experience handling a seemingly impossible defensive task. Expect the Warriors to throw multiple bodies at Doncic, both big (Green, Porter, Kevon Looney) and small (Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins). Expect the Warriors to make Doncic work defense against any of the Splash Brothers. Expect the Warriors to tolerate a Doncic outburst as long as no other Mavericks player experiences the same high score. That puts the onus on any combination of Jalen Brunson, Dorian Finney-Smith and Spencer Dinwiddie to relieve Doncic as they have done occasionally during this postseason run.
3. How much help will Curry, Thompson and Green need? Will this year’s Warriors have the same “Strength in Numbers” identity as their other previous teams?
The Warriors saw third-year guard Jordan Poole flourish in three playoff starts against Denver and serve as a key backup against Memphis, only to fizzle out in the final games of each series. The Warriors played rookie Jonathan Kuminga in double-digit minutes in three games against Memphis before limiting his playing time the rest of the series, even though Iguodala and Porter were hampered by injuries.
All of those players will have chances to become the X factor against Dallas. However, due to the uncertainty of those moving parts, the Warriors may need their stars to produce more efficiently than they did against Memphis. Curry, Thompson and Green showed their greatness, particularly in a decisive Game 6. But they also worked on off-shooting nights and sloppy turnovers.
number to know
22.4 — This series will be a contrast of styles. A team plays fast and moves the ball. The other one plays slow and generally keeps the ball in the hands of one guy.
The Mavs lead the playoffs in time of possession, averaging 22.4 minutes of possession through their first 12 games. For the third year in a row, Luka Doncic leads the postseason in individual possession time (10.0 minutes per game).
The Warriors, meanwhile, rank 14th with just 20.2 minutes of possession, with no one in the top 10 among individuals. They rank first in player movement (11.3 miles per 24 minutes of possession) and second in ball movement (340 passes per 24 minutes of possession), while the Mavs rank 15th (9.9). and 16 (273).
Dallas suppressed the Warriors’ ball movement as the Mavs won three of four regular-season meetings. Golden State led the regular season with 369 passes per 24 minutes of possession, but their 345 per 24 against the Mavs was their lowest rate against any Western Conference opponent. Stephen Curry played in all four games, but Draymond Green played in only one of the four.
Doncic has gotten better at maximizing his individual dominance and elevating his teammates. Even if the Mavs have developed much better chemistry than Doncic could foster with Kristaps Porzingis, however, the Warriors’ depth should be too much to overcome. Warriors in 6.
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Mark Medina is a senior writer/analyst for NBA.com. You can email him here, find his archive here, and follow him. On twitter.
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