The Los Angeles Clippers begin pursuit of the NBA title when they square off with the offense-loving Dallas Mavericks on Monday night near Orlando in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.
The second-seeded Clippers are hoping to ride the duo of two-time NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and Paul George as far as possible, while the seventh-seeded Mavericks are aiming to post an upset behind young guns Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis.
The task facing Dallas (43-32) is certainly tough as it went 0-3 against Los Angeles this season, including a 126-111 setback in the ‘bubble’ on Aug. 6. That marked the second time the Mavericks lost by 15 to the Clippers (49-23).
“We have a very tough matchup, but this is a great opportunity for us,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle told reporters. “We know that we’re playing a team on the very highest level of this league.
“It’s going to be very challenging, very physical. But we’ve had a couple of good days of prep, and we’ve looking forward to the opportunity.”
Points figure to be keep the scoreboard busy in this series as Dallas (117.0) ranked third in the NBA in scoring while the Clippers (116.3) were fourth.
Both teams were in the middle of the pack in scoring defense — Los Angeles (109.9) ranked 13th and the Mavericks (112.1) were 16th.
Dallas thrives behind Doncic (28.8 points, 9.4 rebounds, 8.8 assists) and Porzingis (20.4 points, 9.5 rebounds). LA’s duo of Leonard (27.1 points, 7.1 rebounds) and George (21.5 points, 5.7 rebounds) is just as potent and much more experienced in the postseason.
Leonard, after all, has won NBA titles with the San Antonio Spurs (2014) and Toronto Raptors (2019). He was the MVP both times.
Now he’s looking to take a third crew to the finals.
“It’s a great accomplishment,” Leonard said of making the playoffs. “For me and Paul and the rest of the guys that were here, them being the eighth seed last year, us coming into a new system, able to play that well together our first year under all these circumstances. … We’re still in the journey. We just got to keep enjoying each day and the process.”
The Clippers are expected to have backup power forward Montrezl Harrell available for the opener.
The 26-year-old recently returned to the NBA bubble after being away due to the death of his grandmother. He has been in quarantine since arriving in the Orlando area.
Not as likely to play are veteran point guard Patrick Beverley (calf) and young sharpshooter Landry Shamet (foot). Both were listed as questionable in Sunday’s injury report.
The possibility that there won’t be Beverley’s in-your-face guarding tactics certainly won’t disappoint Doncic, who recorded 17 triple-doubles this season.
The 21-year-old averaged 29 points, seven rebounds and seven assists in the three regular-season setbacks against the Clippers.
There has yet to be a time in which Clippers coach Doc Rivers isn’t fretting when Doncic is on the floor.
“Luka just creates a matchup,” Rivers told reporters. “He has the ability to score. He gets to the paint. He’s strong. He’s an elite passer. There’s no great offense that doesn’t start with a great player, and he’s a great player.”
The Mavericks topped 130 points on 13 occasions — reaching at least 140 in four of them — with Doncic running the show.
The emergence of Porzingis as a running mate has made Dallas tougher to defend. Porzingis was especially stout in six bubble appearances as he averaged 30.5 points and 9.5 rebounds.
“That’s one of our strengths — our offense — and that’s just the way we play,” Porzingis told reporters. “We’re a dangerous team on offense, and on any given night we can surprise people, and we can beat anybody with our offense.
“We want to be a complete team, so we want to keep it going. It doesn’t mean much if you’re not able to win games. So, we just want to win games, and then everybody is going to be talking about us.”
–Field Level Media