Here are some notes and observations ahead of the Mavs/Warriors showdown tonight in Oakland. Tip-off is at 9:30 p.m. Central.
– Whenever you play the Warriors, the first thing you need to think about is who’s going to guard all-world point guard Steph Curry. But when you’re going up against a really good player, you can’t just have one plan. You need to have multiple plans for all the different scenarios you’ll face. For example, when defending Curry one-on-one, Wesley Matthews might be the best option for the Mavericks tonight. Or maybe the club rolls with its point guards, J.J. Barea and Seth Curry (in a battle of the brothers), and lets Matthews check Klay Thompson or Kevin Durant, against whom he did a very good job in last season’s playoffs.
But the Warriors burn opponents by setting ball-screens on Curry’s man and forcing the defense to make a choice: to switch or not to switch. Fortunately, the Mavericks are well-equipped in this game to switch on every Curry screen set by a non-center. Between Matthews, Harrison Barnes, Justin Anderson, and Dorian Finney-Smith, the Mavs have a stable of wings who are long enough to contest Curry’s jumpers and athletic enough to stick with him if he attacks the paint. The best realistic strategy the Mavs could use tonight might be to switch everything. That’s what OKC did in the Western Conference Finals last season and it worked very well for the Thunder.
The problem you face at that point, then, is it means switching Curry’s defender on to the screener, which in many cases is Draymond Green or Kevin Durant. You don’t want Barea, for example, to defend the 6-foot-11 Durant in the post, which means in that case you might have to send double-teams, which invites ball movement and can lead to open 3s. That’s why putting Matthews on Curry might make the most sense, so you don’t get burned on those switches if Durant is setting the screens. No matter what you do, really, it’s tough to defend the Warriors. Not many teams have done it successfully, and only so many teams even have the personnel to potentially do it. The Mavs, however, could be one of those teams.
– The Dallas defense has done a tremendous job of keeping opponents out of the restricted area this season. The Mavs are allowing an NBA-low 23.1 attempts in the RA per game this season, which makes their 65.4 field goal percentage against, the 27th mark in the league, much more palatable. Dallas has done it by overloading the paint with defenders and swarming dribble penetrators, and forcing kick-out passes and closing out like crazy to run the opponent off the line and hopefully force a mid-range J. It’s a bold strategy, but it’s worked very well for Dallas, the eighth-ranked defense in the NBA in terms of defensive efficiency.
The Warriors allow a slightly lower percentage in the restricted area — 63.6 percent — but allow nearly five more attempts from that area per game. If Dallas can contain Golden State penetration while also generating rim attacks of its own, the Mavs have a chance in this one. Draymond Green is a terrific defender, but the Warriors are still searching for help on the interior to make up for the loss of Andrew Bogut, who’s a big reason why Dallas has done so well defending attempts this season. Of course, if you keep the Warriors out of the lane it means they’re shooting more 3s, but a defense simply can’t afford to let the Dubs run wild both in and outside of the paint. If you can stop a great offense in one of those areas, you have a chance to win the game.
Highlights: Mavs vs. Lakers
Harrison Barnes had his third 30-point game of the season and Seth Curry added a career-high 23 as the Mavs defeat the Lakers, 109-97.
– The Warriors sport a 5-2 record, which isn’t quite 73-win pace but it’s still very good, and Steph Curry just hit 13 3s the other night, so whatever early-season woes the Dubs suffered from in the last couple weeks might soon cease to exist. Still, Golden State does have some eye-opening win/loss splits, particularly on 3s. In wins, the Warriors shoot 38.5 percent from deep on 29.6 attempts; in losses, only 18.5 percent on 32.5 attempts. That gap has widened from last season, when the Warriors shot 42.6 percent in 73 wins and 32.7 in nine losses.
Sometimes there’s not much you can do when it comes to defending the 3-point arc, especially against a team that moves the ball as well as the Warriors while also employing some of the best range shooters in the history of the game. But Dallas can control its rotations and the breathing room it gives to Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and everyone else. If you make their looks tough — or run them off the line in general — you’ll have a good chance. For reference, the Warriors shot 7 of 19 from deep in their loss to the Mavs last season, although Steph Curry was inactive that night. In the other three games, all Golden State wins, the Warriors shot 48.3, 57.9, and 46.7 percent from deep.
– This is the Mavs’ first back-to-back of the season, and it’s hard to imagine a much tougher place to have to play for the second consecutive night. There are many reasons why playing games two straight days is tough, but the most obvious reason is simple: fatigue. The good news for Dallas, at least for tonight, is the Mavs have a pretty young roster. J.J. Barea and Andrew Bogut were the only two active players on the roster who came into the league before 2009. And while those two players are very important — they both start — it does create some hope that the rest of the players will have just as much energy tonight as they did last night in Los Angeles. They will certainly need that against the Warriors.
Last season the Mavericks rested a ton of players on back-to-backs, most commonly Dirk Nowitzki, but Deron Williams and Chandler Parsons both missed plenty of games in those situations, too. But I would expect Harrison Barnes and Wesley Matthews to play tonight. I would expect the entire bench to be available. I would expect Andrew Bogut to play, as this is a pretty important game for him emotionally. Barea will be active by necessity, but he performed very well on second nights of back-to-backs last season, averaging 11.5 points on 44.4/42.0 splits. This is one example of the benefits of youth. Outside of the injured players, Dallas should not have many — or, hopefully, any — availability concerns tonight.
– I will continue to drive home the importance of pace all season long. In Tuesday’s win against the Lakers, the Mavs absolutely controlled the tempo, turning the game into a halfcourt affair with a pace of only 92.38 possessions per 48 minutes. The Lakers had previously been the league’s “fastest” team, averaging more than 105 possessions per 48, but Dallas did a terrific job of minimizing turnovers and playing a patient, attacking style on offense against an inexperienced team with serious defensive issues. Golden State is obviously an entirely different beast than Los Angeles, but the Warriors do have similar problems on the defensive end, both on the perimeter and in the interior, so milking the clock would generate better looks for the Mavericks. The Warriors, by the way, are now the league’s “fastest” pace team, and are probably the most fearsome team in transition perhaps in NBA history. Keep the pace down, keep turnovers down, keep the clock running, and see what happens.
Tip-off is at 9:30 p.m. Central.