The Mavericks are up 2-0 in the first round against the Los Angeles Clippers.
This makes them the surprise team of the NBA playoffs so far.
Winning twice on the road to open a best-of-seven playoff series is huge. The national media is taking notice. Fans are gravitating toward the Mavericks.
All of which means nothing.
The Mavericks got back to the practice court on Thursday and put their noses squarely to the grindstone in advance of Game 3 Friday night.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt that Game 3 will be the most difficult game we’ve faced all season (because of) the fact we’re up 2-0 and they’re going to throw everything at us,” coach Rick Carlisle said after the workout. “There’s going to be an even higher level of physicality to start the game. This is one of the great things about playoff basketball. It’s going to challenge you in every way possible.”
Not just the players, but the coaches, too.
They have to come up with every scenario that may present itself and make sure their players are prepared for all of them.
But they have to do so without giving them an overabundance of information. Keep it simple. But be thorough.
“It’s a never-ending process when you got a team with talent like the Clippers,” said Josh Richardson, who has been a productive asset off the bench in the first two playoff wins. “Every day in practice, we’re going over our coverages pretty much the whole practice and making sure that we’re all sharp. It’s nothing out of the ordinary or crazy. But I think it’s a lot more focused in practice and very detail-oriented.”
That’s because Carlisle and staff don’t want to be surprised by anything the Clippers do.
And while doing what the Mavericks are best at remains the focus, they also have to be mindful of adapting to new wrinkles that are certainly going to come from the Clippers.
“It’s going to challenge your ability to focus, your composure, your poise, your ability to maintain aggression and still play the game we want to play,” Carlisle said. “And as we’ve been saying from the very beginning of this. We’re looking forward to these challenges. This is how you grow and this is what great competition is all about.”
And, indeed, they are growing up right before us.
Mind games: This series has become a running commentary on the improvements that Luka Dončić has made this season – particularly in the cerebral part of the game.
The Mavericks’ superstar point guard is never going to be the most athletic player in the game. Nor is he the quickest.
But his brain seems to work faster than everybody else’s, which is a major asset.
“He gets better all the time (as a leader),” Carlisle said. “He’s more involved in huddles, talking to teammates. He’s communicating all the time about where guys need to be. It’s a natural progression for a great young player to keep moving forward. And some of it is just communication.”
The players can almost see the wheels turning when Dončić is directing the team.
“Luka, he knows where everybody’s at on the court always,” said Dorian Finney-Smith. “Sometimes he might throw it there early just knowing that you’re going to be there, without even looking, just slinging it across the court.
“Just like when they are trapping, he directs guys and picks what matchup he wants. Just a great all-around player.”
Calm in the clutch: Josh Richardson has made all five of his free throws in the playoffs, including four in the final 21 seconds to secure the 127-121 win in Game 2.
This after hitting 91.7 percent in the regular season from the line.
Richardson has a unique free-throw routine that doesn’t include any crazy gestures or gimmicks. Just a simple maneuver to find the seams and make sure they are lined up where he wants them.
“When I was in Miami they taught us this thing called rollup,” Richardson said. “So, it’s putting your hand on the ball and finding the laces (seams) exactly where you want it. And it kind of helps keep my elbow in.
“And so, ever since I’ve been playing there, it’s been my routine. And I have no complaints. But yeah, I do put my hand over it to find exactly where I want it.”
Of course, just being a great overall shooter doesn’t hurt, either.
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