In a repeat of the 2020 postseason, the Dallas Mavericks will square off with the Los Angeles Clippers in a first-round matchup in the Western Conference. This time will be a little bit different as both teams will have to travel and have the opportunity to play in front of their fans as the Orlando bubble eliminated that opportunity.
The Clippers were able to get a hold of last year’s series in six games, but it came with the caveat of Kristaps Porzingis missing three games and Paul George assuming the “Pandemic P” moniker after shooting only 36% from the field.
European superstar Luka Doncic put on a show in last year’s series as he averaged a near triple-double that included over 30 points per game. He also hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer in a Game 4 win.
The Mavericks know Doncic and Porzingis will get the points they need to score, but after Seth Curry had a highly-productive series against the Clippers, who will replace him in that role after he was dealt to the Philadelphia 76ers last November.
Could it be Josh Richardson?
Richardson wasn’t the most efficient of offensive producers for Dallas as he only averaged 12.1 points per game, but he can really make an impact in this series if he can draw fouls, get to the line and show off his 91.7% clip from the charity stripe.
How about Jalen Brunson? Brunson knows what it is like to play on the biggest stages as he won two National Championships at Villanova. He averaged 12.6 PPG during the regular season and seems to be the perfect fit to fill the void left by Curry.
Then, there’s Tim Hardaway Jr. Hardaway was a nightmare for the Clippers in the playoffs last year as he was able to not only be the clear second scoring option to replace Porzingis, but was actually producing at a rate of a superstar, which allowed defensive pressure to branch ever so slightly off Doncic. If he can produce those numbers from last year, now, alongside Porzingis, Dallas has a real chance to get their revenge.
The latest era for the Clippers is one without Doc Rivers. The coach that blew two 3-1 series leads as the head coach of the franchise is no longer running the show as Tyronn Lue was hired in the offseason. Now, it’s time for Los Angeles to shake off their self-imposed postseason woes and eliminate the perception of being the perennial choke artists of the playoffs.
Paul George has to be playing at the MVP levels he’s shown at points throughout the season. There’s no room or excuse for “Pandemic P” to return as the mental toll of playing in the bubble has vanished. Some would say that this is the best chance the Clippers have had to win it all with Rivers no longer at the helm and I would lean toward agreeing with that sentiment.
Kawhi Leonard is a leader by action. He’s not much of a floor general, but can elevate his teammates’ play just by Kawhi being Kawhi.
The true floor general of this team is going to be Rajon Rondo through this playoff run. Rondo is no stranger to title runs. He won a title as a Celtic in 2008 and is a defending champ as he won with the Lakers last year. His play and leadership could be the decisive factor in the series.
Another name NBA fans will need to have their eye on is Terrance Mann. He’s earned more and more minutes as the season has gone along and has developed into a productive two-way guard who can light a spark for the Clippers if they go on a slump at any given point in the game. His presence could be key for LA similar to that of Darren Collison when he was a member of the franchise.
Both teams are hungrier than ever for these playoffs.
The Mavericks want their revenge on the Clippers, but the Clippers are running out of time to be a title-contending team.
If George doesn’t evoke “Pandemic P” for a second-straight year, the stars will equal each other on a nightly basis and the series will come down to the role players. Advantage, Clippers.
Prediction: Clippers in seven