Clippers-Mavericks: Luka Doncic’s revenge factor, Paul George’s demons among things to know in playoff rematch

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We’re getting a rematch from last year’s playoffs as the Los Angeles Clippers and Dallas Mavericks face off again in the first round of the postseason. It’s been just nine months since these two teams squared off in the Orlando bubble in six thrilling games full of trash talk, game winners and nail-biting finishes. The Clippers got the best of the Mavericks last time around, but this is a new season and Dallas likely has some revenge on its mind as it prepares for this battle. 

The Clippers are once again heavy favorites entering this series, and after last season’s second-round exit, this team has taken a quieter, more focused approach to the season this year. Some overhaul in the offseason, most notably the firing of Doc Rivers and the insertion of Ty Lue at head coach, gave the Clippers a renewed sense of purpose entering the season. While it wasn’t the same dominant display they put on last year in the regular season, L.A. is still a championship-contending team by all accounts.

Then there’s Dallas, a team with lofty expectations placed upon it a year ago and didn’t quite live up to them over the course of the season. Only recently have the Mavericks managed to look like the contenders many expected them to be from opening night, and with a fully healthy Kristaps Porzingis and MVP play from Luka Doncic, Dallas is once again trying to place itself among the top teams in the West. 

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Here’s everything you need to know about the Clippers-Mavericks’ first-round matchup.

(4) Clippers vs. (5) Mavericks 

All times Eastern

  • Game 1: Saturday, May 22 | 4:30 p.m. | TV: ESPN
  • Game 2: Tuesday, May 25, 10:30 p.m. | TV: NBATV
  • Game 3: Friday, May 28, 9:30 p.m. | TV: ESPN
  • Game 4: Sunday, May 30, 9:30 p.m. | TV: TNT
  • *Game 5: Wednesday, June 2 | TBD | TV: TBD
  • *Game 6: Friday, June 4 | TBD | TBD
  • *Game 7: Sunday June 6 | TBD | TBD

*If necessary

Featured Game | Los Angeles Clippers vs. Dallas Mavericks

1. What version of Kristaps Porzingis are we getting?

Last year in the playoffs, Porzingis averaged 23.7 points and 8.7 rebounds while shooting 52.9 percent from long range in the three games he played before going down with a torn meniscus. It was the turning point of the series for Dallas, which looked like it was going toe-to-toe with the Clippers up to that point. L.A. ended up beating the Mavericks, who were without their second-best player, but the performance K.P. displayed in the bubble offered a glimpse of what a duo of him and Doncic could look like. 

However, this season stalled any of the continuity or chemistry the two stars could’ve built as Porzingis missed 29 games over the course of the year, resulting in another disjointed campaign for the 7-foot unicorn. There were spurts where he looked like the version we saw in the bubble, draining 3s and blocking shots, but then there were the really concerning moments — mostly on defense — where he looked immobile and stuck in mud on the defensive side of the ball. He still shot the ball a career-best 47.6 percent from the field and 37.6 percent from deep, but the consistency is the issue with him. 

We know Luka Doncic is going to get his points, assists and rebounds, but Porzingis has to be consistent on a game-to-game basis on both ends of the floor for Dallas to stand a chance in this series. If he’s putting up numbers like he did in the bubble nine months ago, then the series should be closely contested throughout. But if we get the Porzingis we’ve seen throughout this season where he’ll go for an efficient 25 points one night, then disappear in the next, then it could be a difficult road ahead for the Mavs.

2. Paul George’s time to exorcise some demons

We were all around for the “Pandemic P” slander that came George’s way in the playoffs last year when he didn’t quite live up to expectations, not only in this series, but in the second round as well for the Clippers. All jokes aside, though, George has been quietly having another incredible year in L.A. His effective field-goal percentage is the highest of his career (55.8 percent), he’s shooting over 50 percent on 2-pointers this season — the first time since his last season in Indiana — and he’s also averaging a career-high 5.2 assists a game.

The Clippers have the third-best offense in the league, and when George and Kawhi Leonard share the floor in the regular season they’ve been nearly unstoppable, putting up a team-best 122.5 offensive rating in the 43 games they’ve played together. All of that won’t mean anything, though, if George can’t execute in the postseason this year. L.A. is built to win a championship right now, and if he’s unable to deliver in the playoffs again this year, then George and the Clippers could be in store for another long offseason where some serious questions about his future with the franchise may come into question. 

3. Which role players are going to step up for each team?

As star-studded as this matchup is going to be, when it comes down to it, the role players on each squad are going to play an integral part in deciding the winner of this series. For the Clippers, depth has been key to their success all season long. Whether it’s Marcus Morris, Reggie Jackson or Serge Ibaka, they have a steady crop of guys who can come in and put up decent points each to give L.A. what it needs to rack up wins. Although Batum didn’t provide the type of scoring the Clippers had hoped for, he’s still shooting over 40 percent from deep this season. Morris is putting up even more absurd numbers, shooting 47.3 percent from deep on over five attempts a game, while averaging 13.4 points. Morris’ defense is also invaluable to the Clippers, and last year in this playoff series he certainly did everything in his power to get under the skin of Doncic and the rest of the Mavericks. 

For Dallas, there aren’t as many places to look for points outside of Doncic and Porzingis, at least not consistently. Tim Hardaway Jr. and Jalen Brunson are perhaps the most reliable scoring options for the Mavericks to go to, but even Hardaway is known to be a streaky shooter. Josh Richardson has had a disappointing season, and was even relegated to the bench after Hardaway’s recent outburst on offense earned him a spot back in the starting lineup. Dorian Finney-Smith finished the season strong with his shooting — 50.7 percent from the field and 43.4 percent from deep in the final two months of the season — but he struggles with his consistency as well. 

The stars are going to get their points in this series, but the team whose role players make the biggest impact on both ends of the floor could be the deciding factor in this matchup.

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