The Mavericks announced Friday that their home playoff games will have attendance at close to full capacity.
That’s great news as far as Luka Dončić is concerned.
“For sure, a lot,” Dončić said Friday about the difference that can make for a team. “We play for the fans. And we’re glad that our fans will be able to see our games. And I hope we give them back a win.”
But first, the Mavericks have to figure out how to win on the road, where they will start the best-of-seven first-round series against the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday at 3:30 p.m.
They went through a late practice on Friday in LA to give themselves a chance to get used to the Pacific time zone.
This will be a rematch from last year at the bubble at Walt Disney World, where the Clippers sent the Mavericks into the offseason with a 4-2 series victory. The difference is that there are home courts this time around, rather than a neutral site.
Still, that doesn’t mean the Mavericks will have it any easier.
Kawhi Leonard and Paul George have aspirations of winning a championship, not just getting out of the first round.
The Mavericks have a younger team, but one that gained invaluable experience last summer and will be closer to fully healthy than they were last season.
Coach Rick Carlisle said that Maxi Kleber is making progress and that he seems to be a little better each day.
“We’ll hope that trend continues for tomorrow,” Carlisle said. “I do think he’ll play.”
The same cannot be said for J.J. Redick, who was ruled out for Game 1 and, as Carlisle said Friday evening: “I think it would be very unlikely that he would play in the series.”
However, Jalen Brunson and Dwight Powell, both of whom were unavailable last season because of injuries, will be playing in Game 1.
But what all of it will boil down to is a test of will and execution. Both teams have great talent. But whoever slows down the other team’s key personnel _ Leonard and George for the Clippers, Dončić and Kristaps Porzingis for the Mavericks – will have a distinct advantage.
“It’s going to be tough,” said Josh Richardson, who during the regular season usually drew the job of slowing down George. “They’re two great players that really don’t have any weaknesses. Just try to make them work for everything. If they get going easy, then it’s going to be a real long series.”
Matching up with the Clippers is an interesting proposition for Carlisle, who has to account not only for the their two stars, but center Ivica Zubac, who has become a solid force in the paint and was a constant threat for the Clippers last year in the playoffs.
So how does Carlisle go about combatting the Clippers’ stars, but also staying aggressive with his lineups to be proactive instead of reactive.
“The balance is always matching to guard their great players as best you can,” Carlisle said. “Zubac is a little different situation. He’s not a guy that’s considered to be one of their star players, but he’s a major factor for them. And so, you got Leonard and you got George. And Zubac did major damage last year in the playoff series.
“So we got to try to keep a big body on him as much as we can. And the matchups with Leonard and George are very, very difficult as everyone knows. And they surrounded those two guys with great 3-point shooting, the best 3-point shooting in the league. So it’s a difficult task. It’s a great challenge.”
The answer regardless of who is on the court is to be aggressive, persistent and not let emotional moments in the game get the best of the Mavericks.
They must not allow the Clippers – or the officials – get under their skin.
And another key to advancing past the first round for the first time since winning the title in 2011?
Dončić must be great.
He was last season, when in six playoff games against the Clippers, he averaged 31 points, 9.8 rebounds and 8.7 assists.
It’s hard to ask for more than that. But it’s fair to expect the Mavericks be more efficient than they were in those games. Remember, they were tied at two wins apiece when Dončić knocked in that long, 3-point game-winner in Game 4.
But the last two games, they were badly outplayed – outscored by 57, outrebounded by 28.
Dončić no doubt will take it upon himself to fix that.
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