While some teams still have to earn their spot in the playoffs through the Play-In Tournament, a number of teams are already locked in, including the fourth-seeded Dallas Mavericks and fifth-seeded Utah Jazz in the Western Conference.
Dallas and Utah split four games in the regular season, with the contests pretty well matched in many ways, so how will it all go down come playoff time?
Following is a breakdown of five keys to the series before the Jazz and Mavericks are set to tip off.
Luka Doncic’s injury
After leaving the final game of the season with a calf strain, questions remain as to whether Doncic will be available to play and help the Mavs advance. The All-NBA player leads Dallas in points, rebounds, assists and steals, and while the team is optimistic the injury isn’t significant, calf strains can vary in recovery time.
The Jazz will have to figure out a way to guard him if he does play: He averages 33.5 points, 9.5 assists and 8.8 rebounds per game in the playoffs. Against the Jazz in three 2021-22 games, Doncic averaged 30 points, 11 rebounds and 7.7 assists.
The series hasn’t even started, and the Dallas Mavericks are already facing a serious blow to their playoff hopes due to Luka Doncic’s injury. Without him, this matchup against the Utah Jazz would look entirely different. (@DanielRainbird)https://t.co/eZYaU2ON8s
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) April 13, 2022
Utah’s lead problem
The Utah Jazz have had a problem closing out games they were leading. Against the Clippers and Warriors, Utah has blown second-half leads of 25 and 21 points respectively, while also losing six games where the Jazz have had a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter.
According to NBA Stats, the Mavericks won 22 of 38 clutch games, good for the seventh-best winning percentage in the NBA, whereas the Jazz had the 20th best percentage, winning 17 of 40 clutch games.
In games with five minutes remaining and within five points, the Jazz have shot 41.5% from the field and 29.9% from three. If the Jazz want to move past the first round, Donovan Mitchell and Co. will need to figure out how to close out a game.
Spencer Dinwiddie’s role
Whether Luka plays, Spencer Dinwiddie will figure to play a significant role. Dinwiddie has stepped up when Doncic isn’t playing, averaging 31 points on 54.3% shooting and 6.5 assists during that time. Since Dallas made the trade for Dinwiddie, he has helped improve the Mavs’ scoring, averaging 15.8 points, 3.1 rebounds and 3.8 assists while also shooting 49.8% from the field and 40.4% from behind the arc.
Dallas also has a third weapon in Jalen Brunson who will look to create problems for Utah. Brunson has averaged 16.3 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 4.8 assists, including 25.5 points and 4.5 assists when Doncic is sidelined. Brunson and the Mavericks have both benefited from Dinwiddie’s arrival, as Dallas produces a 116.6 offensive rating when the two are on the court together.
— Playoff Dalton (@dalton_trigg) April 13, 2022
The Jazz will have to prepare for both Dinwiddie and Brunson along with Doncic, because it looks like any one of them could have a strong shooting night.
While the Mavericks get scoring from around the court, the Jazz earn most of their scoring from the 3-point line. The Jazz goes as their “3” goes, and when Utah is firing and scoring, it’s a tough team to beat.
The Jazz attempted the second-most 3-pointers per game, finishing the season averaging 40.3. Of those, they made 36%, good for 11th in the league. Though Mitchell has struggled against the Mavericks’ double team recently, scoring 14.5 points and shooting 23% from three in their last two games, Utah has other shooters it can look to to sink those long shots.
Mike Conley has been a great option for the Jazz in the playoffs, averaging 17.4 points and 50.7% shooting from beyond the arc. He also has the ability to take over late, as he did in the series against Memphis when Mitchell was double-teamed and he has proven himself against Dallas, averaging 15.1 points and shooting 42.3% from three. Aside from Conley, Utah will look to Jordan Clarkson and Bojan Bogdanovic to be other options. Clarkson averages 17.1 points and 39.7% shooting from three against Dallas while Bogdanovic pours in an average of 20.5 points and 43.9% 3-point shooting versus the Mavericks.
It appears there will be two types of defenses at play in this series, with Utah’s Rudy Gobert looking to be a problem in the paint while Dallas will look to frustrate Mitchell on the perimeter.
Utah will heavily rely on its three-time Defensive Player of the Year to protect the rim, preventing Doncic and others from driving the lane and getting easy shots. However, if Dallas decides to play small ball as the Clippers did last season, it could reduce Gobert’s impact. That all changes, though, if the Mavericks aren’t sinking their outside shots.
On the opposite end, Dallas has a strong perimeter defense. The Mavericks finished the season ranked seventh in defensive efficiency, and through double teaming, traps and whatever else, Dallas has caused problems for guards on the perimeter, including Mitchell. The Mavericks have also been able to adjust, which they just might have to do if Doncic is out for the first game, or more.
Dallas will play host to the first game of the series, which fans can catch at 12 p.m. Saturday on ESPN. You can wager on this series and all others at BetUS.