The Dallas Mavericks are hoping their playoff experience against the Los Angeles Clippers in the first-round of last year’s playoffs will bode well when they face the same team in the first round this year.
The Mavs and Clippers will play Game 1 of their best-of-seven series on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. (Dallas time) at Staples Center in Los Angeles. Game 2 will also be played in LA before the series shifts to American Airlines Center for Games 3 and 4.
Last summer in the bubble in Orlando, the Clippers eliminated the Mavs in six games in the first round. But the series was tied 2-2 after point guard Luka Doncic drilled a dramatic step-back 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Mavs an electrifying 135-133 victory in overtime.
The Clippers went on to win the final two games of the series – 154-111 and 111-97. But the Mavs believe there were so many lessons learned from that series that they can use to their advantage, especially since they now have a year of playoff experience under their belt.
“There’s no substitute for experience, really, in any walk of life,” coach Rick Carlisle said after Tuesday’s practice session. “That’s how you learn, that’s how you grow. The fact that we’re playing the same team that’s structured with a high level of similarity, there’s some things to draw on for sure.
“The Clippers are a great team, they’ve got two superstar players (in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George) and they’ve got a lot of great role players that help around them. So this will be a great challenge for us.”
One of the challenges for the Mavs will be the need to fight fire with fire, and take an aggressive hit-first mentality to every game in the series. The Clippers thrive on trying to be the aggressors and the intimidators, so if the Mavs can beat them at their own game, that likely will go a long way toward determining who wins this series.
After all, last year’s Mavs-Clippers’ series was very intense and chippy to the point where replays showed Marcus Morris apparently intentionally stepping on Luka Doncic sprained left ankle during Game 5 of that heated series.
Forward/center Kristaps Porzingis drew his second technical and automatic ejection with 9:10 remaining in the third quarter of the series opener. The Mavs were ahead, 71-66, when Porzingis came running to the defense of Doncic, who was being harassed by Morris.
Montrezl Harrell and Doncic got tangled and each drew a technical fowl in Game 3 of that series, and Doncic also was charged with a technical foul in Game 4.
There were six technical fouls in Game 5, including two and an automatic ejection charged to coach Rick Carlisle. And Morris was ejected from Game 6 for whacking Doncic in the head and neck area.
“This is where there’s no substitute for experience,” Carlisle said. “Having gone through that and some of the chippy things that happen in a playoff series, it’s a great learning experience.
“Some things we handled very well, other things we’ll need to handle better this year. But again, having gone through it I think is an important thing. The ultimate goal is to be better this year going in and give ourselves a better chance.”
Guard Tim Hardaway Jr. noted that no one can go off what happened in last year’s playoff series against the Clippers because the scenarios and atmosphere were different.
“You weren’t in your own building playing in front of your own fans, but it’s different now,” Hardaway said. “You had guys that were sitting out and didn’t want to go in the bubble.
“Now everybody has their full roster on both teams, everybody’s healthy, and just going into this series it’s going to be different. We just got to do a great job of just focusing on ourselves and making sure that we take care of what we can do out there on the floor, and not worry about any distractions that could lead to us not achieving our goal.”
The Mavs haven’t won a playoff series since they defeated the Miami Heat in six games to win the 2011 NBA title. Since then, the Mavs have been knocked out of the playoffs in the first round in 2012, ’14, ’15, ’16 and last season, and failed to qualify for the postseason in the other seasons.
“This has been a rebuild since we had those few teams where we were able to stay in the playoffs, and we had some years we were pretty competitive in the first round,” Carlisle said. “But that’s not what we’re about.
“We’re about winning championships here, and at this point having gone through a very challenging season that’s been challenging for everybody, the playoffs is the next thing that’s really important.”
And that means taking control of the series against the Clippers by at least splitting the first two games in LA.
“Going in and trying to get a win on the road, we know that’ll put ourselves in a great spot with this series,” forward Dorian Finney-Smith said. “So we’re just going to try to go in there and get one of these games and put ourselves in the best position to win the series.”
And winning the series against a Clippers squad that drew complaints while dropping the last two regular season games against lottery-bound Houston and Oklahoma City would be a huge bonus for the Mavs. Particularly since it appeared as though the Clippers were trying to get another shot at playing the Mavs.
“Going into the playoffs you want to win,” Hardaway said. “You don’t want to leave the game questioning yourself for if you should have done this or if I could have done that. Right now all we can focus on is us practicing tomorrow and locking in and getting ready for these guys.”
The Mavs remember they were shorthanded in last year’s playoff series against the Clippers because Porzingis didn’t play in the last three games. Meanwhile, Jalen Brunson missed that entire series after he underwent season-ending surgery to address an injury to the labrum of his right shoulder.
And Willie Cauley-Stein didn’t play in the bubble after last summer’s birth of his daughter.
So getting another shot at the Clippers with a healthier roster has gotten the Mavs excited about the possibilities of getting out of the first round of the playoffs.
“I think it’ll be phenomenal just getting a taste of winning the first round,” Hardaway said. “It helps carry that momentum moving forward not only into that playoffs — and if you end up losing — it carries that momentum going into next season knowing that you guys have expectations to move forward and be better.
“I think it will definitely build confidence in our group, and most importantly it’ll give us that confidence, but also that edge and that firepower moving forward.”