Another sign that things perhaps are not too far away from getting back to normal is that the Dallas Mavericks plan on having approximately 16,000 fans at American Airlines Center for Friday’s playoff game against the Los Angeles Clippers.
That will serve as one of the largest crowds in the NBA for any team since the coronavirus pandemic halted play following a March 11, 2020 game at AAC between the Mavs and Denver Nuggets. It will also be the first time the Mavs have hosted a playoff game since they lost Game 4 of a first-round best-of-seven playoff series against the Oklahoma City Thunder, 119-108, back on April 23, 2016.
The Mavs, of course, very much welcome back a larger crowd along with this taste of normalcy. Especially since it means a raucous crowd will be on hand to possibly distract the Clippers, who trail the Mavs, 2-0, in this best-of-seven series.
“Personally, I just think it’s going to be a lot of energy in there,” forward Dorian Finney-Smith said. “I know the city is excited, we’re excited.
“I would say I don’t even know how excited it was going to be until my daughter, her coming up to me after (Game 2) and (saying), ‘I can’t wait until this game is in Dallas. I’ve never been to a real playoff game.’ So just putting myself into her shoes, I was like, ‘Oh, snap.’ This is big, because last year it was in the bubble.”
Indeed, last year the Mavs and Clippers battled it out in the first round of the playoffs inside the bubble in suburban Orlando.
And remember Game 4 of that series, when point guard Luka Doncic drained that iconic step-back 3-pointer at the buzzer to stun the Clippers and win that memorable contest, 135-133 in overtime? Well, that was technically a “home” game for the Mavs.
Imagine the decibel levels inside AAC had that game occurred in Dallas?
Thus, unimaginable noise from the fans is what the Mavs are expecting for Friday’s 8:30 p.m. tipoff. Noise that will possibly unnerve the Clippers as the Mavs hope to win Games 3 and 4 at home and move on to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
“There’s definitely a good spot you can find playing (in front of) your home crowd,” said guard Josh Richardson, who is in his first season playing for the Mavs. “They bring that energy every night.
“I’ve played in front of sold out Dallas crowds and I know how energetic they can get. I think they can spark runs (and) I think they can inspire you on defense.”
What fans can’t do, coach Rick Carlisle and the players know, is run onto the court and score baskets, grabbed a couple of rebounds or play a matchup zone defense and tilt things in favor of their favorite team.
“Just because you’re home doesn’t mean you’re just going to walk out there and win a game,” Carlisle said. “You still got to keep doing the things that you’ve been doing well in previous games, and that’s going to always be the challenge as you move along to the next game of a playoff series.”
Carlisle said he talked to his team about the added fans that’ll be at AAC for Games 3 and 4, and offered them some sage pieces of advice.
“We’ve got to maintain a road focus, is what I’m calling it,” Carlisle said. “This (Mavs’) team has been very good on the road the last couple of years and we’ve got to take that same kind of focus and attention to detail into our home building.
“All the energy, all the noise, etcetera, is something we’ve got to use to our advantage to help us focus even more. I’m looking forward to it and I know our guys are looking forward to it.”
The Mavs actually finished the regular season with a 21-15 record at home and a 21-15 record on the road. They also won eight of their last nine home games and 13 of their last 18 road games, including the two in Los Angeles to open this series against the Clippers.
Still, Richardson responded to a question about playing at home in front of a friendly large crowd by saying: “I would say it would be a big advantage, but we haven’t been the best home team this season.
“So I think we just need to keep an away-game focus and let the rest of it play itself out.”
The previous largest crowd for a game at AAC this season has been approximately 4,500 during a plethora of recent games. And full capacity for a Mavs’ home game during a normal season is 19,200.
“We’re just looking forward to seeing how the arena is going to look tomorrow,” Finney-Smith said. “It’s the first (home playoff) game.
“It’s going to be a little different, but it’s going to be a great atmosphere and I can’t wait.”
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