Warriors vs. Mavericks Conference Finals Preview: Luka Doncic's time has arrived

NBA analyst David Thorpe joins Follow The Money to preview the Western Finals between the Golden State Warriors and Dallas Mavericks, where the Mavs have the best player in Luka Doncic, but the Warriors have a huge edge in playoffs experience.

Luka Doncic was destined for greatness well before he took an NBA court, and now we’re watching him achieve it right before our eyes.

It was never a matter of if with Doncic, more a matter of when, and in Year 4 – just like LeBron James in 2007 – he’s having his moment. Likely the first of many.

Doncic came out and set the tone in Game 7 when the Mavericks eviscerated the league-leading Phoenix Suns in one of the most jaw-dropping defeats in recent NBA history. Next up, he's coming for Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and the dynastic Golden State Warriors, back in the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2019.

Let’s dive in.

Season series: 3-1 Dallas

Quick Tape (After Round 2)

Warriors: 8-3 | No. 6 offence | No. 6 defence | No. 4 net rating

Mavericks: 8-5 | No. 4 offence | No. 7 defence | No. 3 net rating

Betting Futures

To win series: GS: -220, DAL: +185 (Courtesy FanDuel at time of publication)

To win championship: GS: +130, DAL: +650

Warriors Starting 5: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, Draymond Green, Kevon Looney

Warriors Bench: Jordan Poole, Andre Iguodala, Gary Payton II, Otto Porter Jr., Nemanja Bjelica, Jonathan Kuminga

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

Mavericks Bench: Spencer Dinwiddie, Maxi Kleber, Josh Green, Davis Bertans, Boban Marjanovic

Schedule

• Game 1: Wednesday, May 18, Dallas @ Golden State, 9 p.m. ET (Sportsnet 360).
• Game 2: Friday, May 20, Dallas @ Golden State, 9 p.m. ET.
• Game 3: Sunday, May 22, Golden State @ Dallas, 9 p.m. ET (Sportsnet ONE, 360).
• Game 4: Tuesday, May 24, Golden State @ Dallas, 9 p.m. ET
• *Game 5: Thursday, May 26, Dallas @ Golden State, 9 p.m. ET (Sportsnet ONE, 360).
• *Game 6: Saturday, May 28, Golden State @ Dallas, Time TBD.
• *Game 7: Monday, May 30, Game 7: Dallas @ Golden State, 8 p.m. ET (Sportsnet ONE).

* denotes a game that will only be played if necessary.

Pulse of the Warriors

The Warriors’ pulse should be good, but I don’t think it’s great.

Curry, Green and Thompson are simultaneously healthy for an extended stretch, which hasn’t happened since their last trip to the Finals. Jordan Poole continues to be a revelation. They’re coming off a five-game series win in Round 1, a six-game series win in Round 2, and are significant favourites to push their way to a sixth Finals appearance in eight years.

But the Denver Nuggets were arguably the weakest first-round opponent and that second-round series against the Memphis Grizzlies was shaky – even with Ja Morant missing the final three games. Curry and Thompson have also not been near their best, shooting a combined 41 per cent from the floor and 34 per cent from three during the second round.

Steve Kerr is back after his stint in health and safety protocols, but they still have some injuries hanging in the balance.

Otto Porter Jr. is probable for Game 1, and he could make a significant impact in this series with his defensive versatility and shooting. Still, his foot issue has nagged him all season and this may not be the last we hear of it.

Gary Payton II is a “longshot” to play in this series, and Andre Iguodala has yet to make his play since Game 3 of Round 1.

Overall, the Warriors are not exactly jumping into this series with “strength in numbers,” but they’re by no means in a bad spot.

Golden State Warriors guards Stephen Curry (30) and Klay Thompson (11). (Jed Jacobsohn/AP)

Pulse of the Mavericks

Dallas making the Conference Finals comes as a bit of a surprise, but should it?

After a slow start to the season, the Mavericks went 35-12 in 2022 to finish the regular season. Then in Round 1, they led 2-1 over the Utah Jazz without Doncic before wrapping things up in six. And finally, they came back from down 2-0 to beat a 64-win Suns team – with a Game 7 massacre on the road, no less.

They’re coming into this series believing they have the best player – and that’s hard to argue when Doncic averaged 32.6 points per game, 9.9 rebounds and seven assists against Phoenix, including a 27-point first-half outburst in Game 7 which had him smiling gleefully after every bucket. (Note: The Suns as a team only scored 27 the entire half).

Brunson continues to have a strong playoffs, Dinwiddie broke out of a shooting slump in Games 6 and 7, role players are making their shots, and the whole team is playing great defence.

The pulse? Pretty strong.

What’s at stake for Golden State?

This core’s not getting any younger, but it’s far from over even if they lose here, so it’s not all on the line. You can’t say it’s this iteration of Golden State’s last crack at Larry OB.

Poole has emerged into a borderline all-star and he’s still on a rookie deal next season, Thompson can come back after a proper off-season and actually play a full campaign instead of being thrown into the mix mid-season after two years off, Curry’s still got it on offence, Green’s still got it on defence.

Then you have Kuminga possibly taking a leap, and James Wiseman as wild card. Both still on rookie deals.

You never want to miss opportunities with an aging core, but the Warriors could be even stronger next season.

What’s at stake for Dallas?

First off, Doncic is 23 years old. If he really is a generational talent, this is likely just the beginning and trips to the Conference Finals should become the norm, rather than the exception.

Still, the Mavericks’ cap situation becomes increasingly difficult starting next season with Doncic’s supermax salary kicking in. There’s also a major question mark hanging over Brunson’s future.

The 25-year-old point guard is having a terrific season, and even shining these playoffs – stepping up when Doncic was absent. But that may just be the problem. As a restricted free agent this summer, Brunson will command a nice salary after everything he’s shown this season, so does it make sense for the Mavericks to devote so much of their cap to a player whose value may be highest when their franchise player is out? Or should they spend that on an actual complementary No. 2 star?

The Mavericks’ window is just opening, and isn’t likely to close as long as Doncic is around so there’s definitely a feeling that they’re playing with some house money right now, but there are some big decisions ahead.

Key Warriors Stat

66.4 – Golden State's playoff-leading assist percentage, the proportion of team field goals that are assisted. The Warriors also led the NBA in the regular season.

It’s indicative of Golden State's style of play – a free-flowing, motion offence where all five players might touch the ball on five consecutive trips down the floor. It’s also indicative of the heavy contrast in style of play were about to see in this series.

The Mavericks are currently ranked 15th in playoff assist percentage after finishing 20th in the league this season – largely due to the pick-and-roll and isolation-heavy Luka-centric offence. Can’t argue with the results…

Key Mavericks Stat

42.8 – The combined post-season three-point percentage of Bullock, Finney-Smith, Kleber and Bertans – all spot-up shooters that are bound to get good looks for Dallas. Of the four, Kleber leads the way with a lethal 49.2 per cent, bouncing back from a shaky 32.5 per cent this season, while Bullock is the lowest 38.9. The Warriors will have to live with Doncic getting his points, but if Dallas’ role players keep hitting from deep at this clip, it’s a major problem.

Matchup to watch

Stephen Curry vs. Luka Doncic. It’s not a direct matchup – Doncic will see lots of Wiggins, Porter, even Green. Curry should have a whole bunch of Bullock up in his grill. If Curry and Doncic do matchup on a given possession, that’s a nightmare for whoever’s defending.

But ultimately, this is the headliner. Curry is already an all-time great who revolutionized basketball, Doncic, 11 years younger, is trying to follow that path. They’ll both be the catalysts for their team’s success, and watching them go toe-to-toe while they’re both still in their primes should be a treat.

Shoutout to Poole and Dinwiddie as potential X-factors.

Warriors win if …

Golden State can win a few ways.

For one, they’re in good shape if Game 6 Klay carries over. After some abysmal games against Memphis, Thompson broke out with 30 points on 11-of-22 shooting in the clinching Game 6 – sparking a reminder of his classic performance against the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2016. Should that form continue, the Warriors have an offensive threat they haven’t had most of the playoffs and that’s likely too much for the Mavericks to handle on top of Curry and Poole.

The Warriors also win if they shut down everyone not named Doncic. How Kerr and his staff opt to handle Doncic will be an interesting storyline. Do they focus on getting the ball out of his hands and force other players to beat them? Or do they let Doncic go crazy but take everyone else out of the game? Think LeBron against the Orlando Magic in 2009, or this JJ Redick tweet about Dwight Howard:

Mavericks win if …

Doncic gets enough help. I’ll say it again, Doncic will get his points and likely be the top player in this series, but will he get enough support? If Brunson keeps it up, Dinwiddie stays out of a shooting slump and role players keep making shots, Dallas will win.

That’s a lot to ask though, even if the team is burgeoning with confidence, especially since this is the biggest NBA stage any player on the roster has played on.

One Bold Prediction

Doncic breaks his career-high in points, regular-season or playoffs.

Doncic’s playoff career-high is 46 points, in the regular season it’s 51 – he’s bound to have some ridiculous games, and breaking those thresholds feels achievable. He scored 45 against the Suns in Game 1, and God knows how many points he could have produced had the second half of Game 7 mattered. I’m betting he takes it up a notch in one game this series.

Series Winner

Dallas in 7. Make that two bold predictions?

The Mavericks have confidence, they’ve been on a roll since the new year, and this just feels like Doncic’s time has arrived. The Warriors feel like they still have things to figure out and haven’t completely gelled, the Thompson-Poole dynamic in particular.

The series will go long, I’m predicting all the way to Game 7 in San Francisco, and we all saw what Dallas did in Phoenix.

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