It would be great if this was a nice, tidy 3-1 Mavericks lead with a chance to wrap up the first-round series against Utah in Game 5 on Monday night.

But that ain’t the case, Mavericks fans.

And that’s why this series has become so much fun to watch.

This is going to be hard. And, as Tom Hanks said in A League of Their Own: “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”

Just ask Luka Dončić. He was talking about coming back from his calf muscle strain that cost him the first three games of this series. He talked about missing it so much, about it being harder to watch the games than to actually play them.

And then, he said this:

“Last year, we took the Clippers, with Kawhi (Leonard) and PG (Paul George), to seven games. It was a very exciting playoffs. I enjoyed every moment. If we won it, it would be even more (enjoyable).

“But you got to go game by game. Sometimes, you’re going to win. Sometimes, you’re going to lose. But we got to learn.”

It’s the most fun players can have. And it should be the same for fans. Pressure at its highest. And payoffs are at their biggest.

The Mavericks know they are going back to Utah, win or lose on Monday night (8:30 p.m. tipoff). But it’ll be a lot less stressful if they can scratch out a win on their home floor, where they were very good in the regular season, but are 1-1 in the playoffs.

Both of those games were without Luka.

Now, he’s back, and after a 30-point Game 4, it appears he’s at least on the path back to his normal self. He still looked a bit slow, but then, well, you know.

He’s always looked a bit slow.

And somehow, he still gets to his spots and racks up massive numbers.

The winner of Game 5 in a series that is 2-2 becomes the overwhelming favorite to advance to the next round. Winners of Game 5 when the match is tied win the series 82.2 percent of the time (180-39).

So a loss isn’t a death knell. But it certainly puts the loser at a massive disadvantage.

So here’s a quick look at three reasons why the Mavericks should have major optimism about a Game 5 victory, along with three reasons why the Jazz should feel good about where they stand.

Maverick keys:

  1. Luka’s got it going on. While Jalen Brunson has been the Mavericks’ best player in the series from the start, having Dončić back is going to make the Mavericks like a different team. And after the Jazz had trouble figuring out the other Mavericks after their Game 2 adjustments, this figures to be a similar situation. The Mavericks will make new adjustments between Games 4 and 5 and it’s going to be a challenge for the Jazz to figure it out.
  2. Home crowd will help. The Mavericks need their fans to be at their absolute loudest and rowdiest. The Jazz fans did their part when Dwight Powell was at the free-throw line with 19 seconds left. It’s hard to concentrate and make shots when 20,000 fanatics are screaming in your ear. Powell will have chances to atone for those missed free throws. The Mavericks’ fans need to make it just as hard on Utah.
  3. Avoid foul trouble. The Mavericks need to attack the paint. They have scored better when they’ve gotten into the grinder, then figured out ways to either score or passed the ball to shooters for open 3-pointers. But for this to happen, Maxi Kleber and others have to steer clear of foul trouble. And when Rudy Gobert is the guy you’re going against, that ain’t easy.

Jazz keys:

  1. Keep Gobert involved. If the Jazz don’t run their offense through their center more often, they are traveling a bumpier road. The Mavericks don’t have anybody who can match up well with Gobert in the paint. Powell is their best option. But Gobert went to the free-throw line 18 times in Game 4. The Mavericks can’t afford to let that happen again because he’ll probably make more than nine of them.
  2. Jump on the Mavericks again. The Jazz dominated the first half. And while the Mavericks came back in the third quarter, we are reminded of Rick Carlisle’s premise that the NBA is as much a first-quarter league as it is a fourth-quarter league. That may not always be the case, but a decent start is important. As Luka said: “The third quarter describes who we are. In the first half, we didn’t do nothing good. We came back. It was a big third quarter. We just got to start from the beginning.” It’s up to the Jazz to realize they can put themselves in a position of power early in the game.
  3. Keep Clarkson rolling. We know Donovan Mitchell is going to get his. He’s averaging 30.3 points in the series and that’s without shooting the ball well at all. But when Clarkson piles up 25 points off the bench, that’s like gold for the Jazz. And poison for the Mavericks.

Twitter: @ESefko

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