On Monday night (8:30pm Eastern; April 18th, 1:30am UK), the Mavericks return to their home court at Dallas’ American Airlines Center for Game 2, desperate to level their opening round playoff series against the Jazz – once again without talismanic point guard Luka Doncic.
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Utah Jazz team news
As long as the Mavericks are without Luka Doncic, it’s going to be tough to assess this team’s long-term playoff prospects. That being said, the Jazz did what was required of them in Game 1, putting forth a solid defensive effort against their shorthanded hosts.
That should come as little surprise, given the fact that the Jazz have ranked at or near the top of the NBA in defensive efficiency in recent seasons – though, during the 2021-22 regular season, Utah’s defensive rating dropped towards the middle of the pack (11th out of 30 teams). However, given their personnel, their roster continuity, and the Mavericks’ limitations for as long as they’re without Doncic, this kind of showing is readily replicable.
Anyone paying attention to Game 1 will have noticed that center Rudy Gobert was not only an absolute destroyer in the paint, but also disrupted Dallas’s guards on the perimeter when called upon. As long as he is patrolling the inside and hard-nosed Royce O’Neale is providing extra muscle, Utah is capable defensively against quality opposition.
If there’s an area of concern, it will be the offense This is fascinating as, during the regular season, Utah posted one of the best offensive efficiency marks in NBA history, with 116.7 points per 100 offensive possessions. It’s worth noting that their Game 1 offensive issues weren’t merely down to their own failings, but also reflect the work of a Mavericks team whose identity (outside of ‘Luka-Magic’) is one of rugged, disruptive defense. Even in Luka’s absence, those long-armed defenders are still capable of creating havoc on the perimeter.
It’s also worth noting that, after an awful first half in which they scored just 45 points (and Donovan Mitchell managed just two), the Jazz looked far more like themselves, with a far more efficient 54 points – a whopping 30 of which came from Mitchell. Of course, the Jazz can have no issue with the work of Bojan Bogdanovic (26 points, 11-of-20 shooting, with four assists), who served as the lone reliable offensive weapon while Mitchell was struggling.
Jazz predicted starting lineup: Mike Conley, Jr., Bojan Bogdanovic, Donovan Mitchell, Royce O’Neale, Rudy Gobert
Notable injuries: None
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Dallas Mavericks team news
Conversely, where the Jazz are working to recapture an established identity with a full complement of players, the Mavericks have the unenviable task of redefining the way they play, on the fly, without by FAR their most important player. Few players in the NBA impact opposing gameplans as emphatically as Luka Doncic does. As one of very few truly irreplicable talents in the NBA, he is not only the heart of the Mavs’ offense, his is the very engine that makes it run.
Now, the Mavs do feature a trio of talented guards in Jalen Brunson, Spencer Dinwiddie and Reggie Bullock capable of (to varying degrees) creating (again, nowhere near the level of Luka) and making shots, these days, every single Mavericks basket comes with a degree of difficulty.
The Mavericks will not only need all that they got from Brunson (24 points), Dinwiddie (22) and Bullock (15) in Game 1, they’ll probably need more, and they’ll need it far more efficiently than 15-for 49 from the field, and 4-for-15 on 3-pointers. Additionally, they’ll need more than 14 points on 3-of-10 shooting from their perimeter, big men off the bench, Maxi Kleber and Davis Bertans.
Every bit as important, however, will be the defense. For this depleted version of the Mavericks to overcome the Jazz, they must reproduce the defensive intensity that held Mitchell in check in the first half, while also stifling Bogdanovic – while also consistently creating offensive chances.
Mavericks predicted starting lineup: Jalen Brunson, Spencer Dinwiddie, Reggie Bullock, Dorian Finney-Smith, Dwight Powell
Notable injuries: Luka Doncic
Prediction: Utah Jazz to win by more than 5.5 points, with a combined score OVER 205.5
If the Jazz are going to win this series, it’s likely going to take four relatively ugly victories. That being said, presumably every game won’t be quite as ugly as Game 1. Mitchell will make more than a third of his shots (more or less; he was 10-of-29), and Gobert will almost assuredly offer more than zero made field goals (and five points in total).
Without Doncic, this series was always going to be a massive uphill battle for Dallas. With the talent currently on hand, this is not a team equipped to win with offense. It’s also tough to shake the feeling that watching a spirited Game 1 performance fall short will take something extra out of their sails.