Suns vs. Mavericks preview: Can Doncic lead Dallas to an upset?

Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) battles Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker for space during the second half of an NBA basketball game. (Brandon Wade/AP)

After surmounting injury scares to each of their superstars, both the Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks are healthy and more than capable of making some noise in this second-round matchup.

The Suns are coming off a slight wake-up call against the New Orleans Pelicans, but enter this series looking to keep their well-oiled machine rolling on the way to another Finals run.

For the Mavericks, it’s a first second-round appearance since winning the title with Dirk Nowitzki in 2011. Is it the start of something special? Is this Luka Doncic’s moment now that he’s over the first-round hump?

We’ll find out starting Game 1 on Monday.

Season series: 3-0 Phoenix

Quick Tape (after Round 1)

Suns: 4-2 | No. 4 offence | No. 11 defence | No. 8 net rating

Mavericks: 4-2 | No. 10 offence | No. 3 defence | No. 6 net rating

Betting Futures

To win series: PHX: -295, DAL +240 (Courtesy FanDuel at time of publication)

To win championship: PHX: +290, DAL: +2000

Suns Starting 5: Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder, Deandre Ayton

Suns Bench: Cameron Johnson, Cameron Payne, Landry Shamet, Torey Craig, Javale McGee

Mavericks Starting 5: Doncic, Jalen Brunson, Reggie Bullock, Dorian Finney-Smith, Dwight Powell

Mavericks Bench: Spencer Dinwiddie, Maxi Kleber, Josh Green, Marquese Chriss, Boban Marjanovic

Pulse of the Suns

The Suns had a surprisingly difficult time with the Pelicans, but should be feeling confident enough with that behind them – especially since Booker is back healthy and getting three full days off between games.

In some ways, weathering that storm in the first round may have been a good way for Phoenix to get set for the playoff run. Booker missed time, the Pelicans threw everything they had at Paul to get him off his game, and yet they made it out in six games. Paul, Bridges and Ayton each had marquee performances in the series, too – a reminder that this team can beat you in multiple ways with its depth of talent.

The Suns are a nearly perfectly constructed team with shot-making guards, defensively versatile wings, a solid big man and steady contributors off the bench. They’ll try to stick to their consistent game to win the series. They’re also the best team in the clutch this season, and we saw why in Game 6 against New Orleans.

Pulse of the Mavericks

With Doncic’s injury in mind, six of our seven experts picked the Utah Jazz to win that first-round series. He came back sooner than expected, but the Mavericks actually went up 2-1 without him in the lineup.

Turns out, it may have been a blessing in disguise for Dallas. The Mavericks were thought of as fully dependent on Doncic, now they’ve proved they’re a strong side beyond him. Brunson, who’s bound to get the bag this summer, broke out averaging 27.8 points per game in Round 1 to show he’s a worthy second-fiddle to their Slovenian superstar. Dinwiddie broke out of a shooting slump in Game 6, and even Kleber proved lethal from deep after a rough season beyond the arc.

After the All-Star break, and the Kristaps Porzingis trade, only the Celtics had a better record than the Mavericks. Now they’re coming off a series partially won without Doncic, and fully healthy entering Round 2. Vibes have to be pretty good, and an upset must feel possible.

Key matchup to watch

Luka Doncic vs. Mikal Bridges. Just like Round 1, Bridges finds himself in a key matchup for a Suns series – and that’s just how important he is for Phoenix. Although Brandon Ingram thrived last series, Bridges stifled CJ McCollum and was instrumental in bringing the Suns to victory.

Stopping McCollum is one thing, holding off Doncic is a whole other task. There’s no stopping him in any series, really. He even went off against the Los Angeles Clippers the last two seasons with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George draped all over him. Still, Bridges is as good a stopper there is in today’s NBA, so seeing if he can slow Doncic down or whether Doncic can navigate past his defence could define the series.

Suns win if …

Phoenix can win a lot of ways.

If Bridges slows Doncic down that’s tough for Dallas despite what they showed without him in Round 1, especially since he’ll be taking on a high usage. The Suns also have Crowder and Craig to throw a variety of looks at him.

If 36-year-old Paul stays fresh throughout the series and Booker is healthy, they’ll be tough to beat even in a close game considering both are proficient in the clutch.

Then, they have a massive advantage in the paint with Ayton. He could make this series his own and Dallas wouldn’t have much of an answer.

The Suns are in good shape if one or two of these things happen.

Mavericks win if …

Luka does magic. Doncic had the second-highest usage rate this regular season and leads all players with over 20 minutes played in the playoffs. He needs to be at his very best for Dallas to win.

At the same time, part of being at his best might be showing a willingness to defer when the Suns' defence is focused on him – Brunson, Dinwiddie & co. proved they can be trusted. They’ll need to be great for the Mavs to win as well, and Kleber and Bullock need to make the open shots they’re bound to get.

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