Losing teams in Game 1 of an NBA playoff series always make changes.
But here’s a little secret: the winning team makes adjustments, too.
It’s just that the Mavericks haven’t been in that role for the last decade. It’s the first time they’ve been ahead 1-0 in a series since the championship season.
While all the talk is focused on how the Los Angeles Clippers will guard Luka Dončić, Mavericks’ coach Rick Carlisle knows that if his team does everything the same way they did in Game 1, they’ll be heading home with the series tied.
Carlisle and his staff expect new looks from Ty Lue and the Clippers. Will they put Kawhi Leonard on Dončić? Does Ivica Zubac continue to start or do the Clippers go small?
And for the Mavericks, how do they continue to keep the Clippers off-kilter from the 3-point line?
It adds to the intrigue of a series that figures to get a lot rougher starting Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. in Game 2.
“Our preference is to play bigger when we can,” Carlisle said about what kind of lineup tweaks he might have in store. “It just helps our rebounding and rebounding is such an important part of NBA playoff basketball.
“As we continue to move forward in the series, everything’s on the table. We have to anticipate some things that they’ll do – the possibility that (Rajon) Rondo could start, the possibility that they could start the game small with (Marcus) Morris at five. Or they could continue with Zubac at five. You got to be ready for everything. That’s so much of what playoff basketball is about.”
Lue had a direct answer to the question on Sunday when he was asked why Leonard doesn’t guard Dončić more often?
“I think you’ll get what you’re asking for on Tuesday,” he responded.
Then again, what are the chances that his answer was a smokescreen?
NBA coaches are involved in a high-stakes chess match between games 1 and 2. They don’t often give away their next moves.
But what the Clippers do with their 7-foot center Zubac is going to be crucial. He is a very good rebounder per minute played, especially on the offensive glass.
But he is not a great defender. That’s why the Mavericks tried to get Dorian Finney-Smith going when Zubac started the game guarding him.
“We figured they were going to put Zubac on either me or Maxi (Kleber),” Finney-Smith said. “So we just wanted to make sure we were ready to shoot whenever guys penetrated.”
Lue is aware of the problem.
“They have a stretch 5 in (Kristaps) Porzingis, a stretch 5 in Kleber, so when the shot goes up,if Zu’s guarding Porzingis on the perimeter, it’s hard for him to go down and rebound the ball,” Lue said. “So they do a good job of spreading you out, there’s going to be long rebounds and those are the ones we got to get to.
“So we got to do a better job collectively hitting bodies and going to get it. We know they’re going to cut from the corner, we know they’re going to crash, we got to do a better job of getting to bodies.”
The biggest adjustment, however, might be one that doesn’t involve X’s and O’s, but pure forcefulness.
The Clippers have vowed that they were not physical enough to start the game, hence falling behind by 11 points in the first quarter.
“I’m sure they’re going to make some adjustments, but we’re also going to get better,” Porzingis said. “It’s going to be a fun second game.”
That might not be the word on players’ minds when things get physical. But it should, indeed, be fun for fans.
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