The Los Angeles Clippers ($1.42 at PlayUp) may have secured home-court advantage for the first round of the NBA playoffs, but the challenge won’t be straightforward as they battle the Dallas Mavericks.
The Clippers, looking for Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to continue steering the ship, will be slightly disappointed with not finishing higher, ending the regular season at 47-25 in fourth spot out west.
Both George and Leonard sat out of their back-to-back losses at the end of the season so, even though they were against the west’s two bottom-feeders (Houston and Oklahoma City), don’t read too much into that.
The Mavericks ($2.95 at PlayUp), on the other hand, have been more of a one-man show with point guard Luka Doncic at the pointy end of all team stats. He’s recorded 27.9 points, 8.6 assists, and eight rebounds per game. In short, if Dallas is to go anywhere in the playoffs, they will need the 22-year-old Slovenian to go nuts every time they step on the court.
Like their first-round playoff opponents, the Mavericks finished the regular season with a loss to a lowly-ranked team in Minnesota, but have won eight of their last ten to move up to the fifth spot. Finishing with a 42-30 record, there’s a substantial difference of five games between the fourth and fifth seed.
Los Angeles’ best team this season finished fifth in shooting percentage at 48.3 and, while they were the only tenth in scoring, their strangling defence gave them the league’s second-best points differential.
Leonard and George average 24.8 and 23.3 points per game, respectively, but that may also be the Clipper’s biggest weakness, with no other player averaging more than 15. If one of Leonard or George fails to fire, they may not have the attacking might to go with Doncic and the Mavericks.
In saying that, they’ve proven themselves defensively, allowing the fourth-fewest points at just 107.8 per game. Leonard and George receive ample help on that end of the court with multiple players like Nicolas Batum and Rajon Rondo – among others – all averaging a steal per game.
Dallas, as a team, trails the Clippers in all the key statistics, finishing 17th for points scored and eighth for points against. The second of those is still a positive for the men in blue though, and they will need to turn this into a physical battle if they are to succeed.
That becomes even more so the case when you consider the advantage in rebounding Dallas has. While they are the middle of the road, the Clippers record the fewest defensive rebounds per team across the competition despite their outstanding defensive record.
If the Rick Carlisle-coached Dallas defence can cause their opponents’ normally excellent shooting percentage to fall away, then the Mavericks could well win plenty of extra possessions with their edge on the boards through players like Kristaps Porzingis, who has averaged nine rebounds per game.
Dallas has struggled against their own conference all season though, only holding an even 21-21 record, which is the worst of the top eight seeds. Meanwhile, they have won 21 of their 30 games against the weaker eastern conference, which won’t help them in the slightest come playoff time.
Verdict: With experienced play-off campaigners in George and Leonard leading the way, an edge in all the key statistics, coupled with the Mavs’ heavy reliance on Doncic, the Clippers should win the series.
Clippers in 6.