After the No. 3 Golden State Warriors defeated the No. 2 Memphis Grizzlies in Game 6 and the No. 1 Phoenix Suns were all but a no-show against the No. 4 Dallas Mavericks in Game 7, the Warriors and Mavericks are set to face off in the Western Conference Finals.
The teams faced each other four times, with Dallas winning three. Despite this fact, the Warriors are favored to win.
Will the Warriors be upset by Dallas? Or is the Western Conference Finals where it ends for the underdog Mavericks?
Here are five keys to the series between Dallas and Golden State.
Will Luka or Steph have the bigger impact?
Both Luka Doncic and Steph Curry entered the playoffs with injury questions. Curry was on a minutes restriction and Luka Doncic finally made his return in Game 4 against the Utah Jazz, but both are now back to taking over.
This sets up an exciting showdown in the Western Conference Finals.
If the Warriors want to make it to another NBA Finals after missing out the past two years, they’ll need to find a way to stop the Slovenian star, who has given Golden State a headache this regular season. Against the Warriors, Doncic averaged 31.5 points, 9 rebounds and 5.5 assists.
Doncic has also dominated in the playoffs, averaging 31.5 points, 10.1 rebounds, 6.6 assists and 1.9 steals through 10 games.
Dallas will need to find a way to slow Curry as well. In the Western Conference Finals alone, he has averaged 29.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.8 assists, a slight increase on his postseason averages this season of 26.9 points, 4.2 rebounds and 5.6 assists. While Dallas seemed to disrupt Curry on a couple occasions this season, leaving him to average 20 points, 6.8 rebounds and 7.8 assists, the Mavs will need to do it again this series.
Which Role Players Step Up?
While the stars will undoubtedly be a key part of their respective teams’ success, the role players on each team will play just as important a part.
Doncic will need Jalen Brunson, Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith and others to step up to contend with the other scorers the Warriors have. Brunson answered the call when Doncic was out the first few games against Utah, taking over as the team’s leading scorer. He is averaging 22.9 points at a 46.7 field goal percentage in the playoffs. Dinwiddie and Finney-Smith have also put up needed scoring in big games. Dinwiddie scored 30 to help secure Game 7 of the semifinals while Finney-Smith put up crucial points in Games 5 and 6 of the quarterfinals.
On the flip side, Curry has Klay Thompson, Jordan Poole, Andrew Wiggins and more to get scoring help. Though Thompson has been a strong No. 2 option to Curry for many years, Poole has been rising as well. Wiggins also provides another option on the outside while Draymond Green provides scoring down low.
With Thompson averaging 20.4 points and Poole adding 19.3 points per game in the playoffs, along with Wiggins and Green contributing, that leaves Golden State with multiple options Dallas will be left to cover.
How much will home court play a role?
Since the Warriors are the higher seed in the matchup, they get the home-court advantage. However, this series will show if home-court advantage is all it cracks up to be.
While Golden State seems to be using every opportunity to play at home to its advantage in the playoffs this season, going undefeated thus far, the Mavericks have defeated the Warriors at home once already in the regular season.
Dallas also doesn’t seem to be afraid of the disadvantage, as Doncic and Co. went into Phoenix in Game 7 and quieted the crowd with a 123-90 win to advance. The same was also done the series prior against the Jazz, though in not quite as easy fashion. In Game 6 in Utah, with a win sending them to the next round, the Mavericks won 98-96.
Although the Mavs aren’t undefeated at home in the playoffs like their opponents are, they don’t seem to worry about playing critical games away from home, so it will be interesting to see how the advantage plays out in this matchup.
The Rebounding Battle
The rebounding battle will be another thing to keep watch on in this series, as whichever team controls the boards will have an advantage over the other.
Though the Warriors have been running with a small-ball lineup for much of the playoffs, they have done a solid job of crashing the glass. Offensive rebounding has been and will continue to be key for this team, as the Warriors are averaging 9.8 rebounds for 14.5 second-chance points, with Wiggins leading the charge at 2.5 offensive boards a game. Golden State has also been strong on the other end in the playoffs, averaging 34 defensive boards in the playoffs. Green leads the team with 6.4 defensive rebounds a game, helping to limit opponents’ second-chance opportunities.
Dallas, however, has struggled to both grab offensive boards as well as capitalize when the Mavs do get them. In the playoffs, the Mavericks are averaging 6.7 offensive boards and 9.4 second-chance points. While Doncic leads the team with 10.1 rebounds a game in the playoffs, Dallas will need others crashing the glass to up their scoring opportunities.
At the pace each team is going in the playoffs now, the Warriors are currently outrebounding the Mavs 43.8 boards to 36.9 per game.
While the Mavs have to work on rebounding, turnovers have been the Warriors’ crutch in the playoffs, as they have committed 15.3 per game. Golden State’s opponents have been able to capitalize on such turnovers as well, with its opponents averaging 18.1 points off turnovers in the playoffs. Dallas will be no different, as the Mavs average 17.2 points off turnovers in the playoffs.
Conversely, Dallas has done a solid job at taking care of the ball, averaging 9.4 giveaways in the playoffs. The Mavericks’ opponents have also scored the fewest points off turnovers in the playoffs, averaging 11.5 a game. However, Golden State will look to increase that number, as the Warriors are averaging 16.7 points off turnovers in the playoffs.
Both teams will need to take care of the ball, since whoever wins the turnover battle will surely gain the points off turnovers advantage as well.
Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals between the Warriors and Mavericks tips at 9 p.m. ET Wednesday in San Francisco.