30/05/2024

Luka Dončić will be the key to the Mavericks advancing to the next round (Photo: Erik Drost / Flickr)

For the third time in five seasons, the LA Clippers and Dallas Mavericks will compete in the first round of the NBA playoffs. 

Prior to this season, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard have been unable to realise their full potential as a duo due to their ongoing injuries. However, in season 2023/24 George and Leonard managed 63 games together, winning 41 of those encounters. Now they are aiming to make up for lost time. 

The Mavericks will be trying to seek revenge, losing both of their previous playoff series against the Clippers. In recent weeks, Kyrie Irving and Luka Dončić have been on a tear. They won 15 of the last 16 games they played together, helping Dallas to the fifth seed in the West.     

Context

When James Harden arrived in Los Angeles, the Clippers seemed no chance of making the playoffs. Losing their opening five games with the former MVP, LA found the right balance when Russell Westbrook came off the bench. A 26-5 run between December and February put the Clippers into playoff contention and ultimately locked them into fourth spot in the West. 

The trio of Leonard, George and Harden averaged 63 points per game throughout the season, with all three players playing 68 games or more. Leonard and George were also rewarded with All-Star jerseys for their efforts this season. 

Moving Westbrook to the bench proved pivotal for the Clippers putting up 11 points, five rebounds and five assists per night. 

Going into game one, Tyronn Lue and the Clippers organisation will be sweating on the fitness of Kawhi Leonard. The two-time NBA champion has been listed as questionable due to inflammation in his knee from his ACL and meniscus surgeries. 

Much like in Los Angeles, things are starting to become more smooth sailing in Dallas. After the Mavericks missed the playoffs last season following Kyrie Irving’s arrival, there seemed to be warning signs. However, a strong finish to the 2023/24 season should have Dallas fans excited. 

The pairing of Irving and Dončić seemed incomprehensible at first given both players are ball-centric, although they have managed to click. A combined output of 59 points, 14 rebounds and 15 assists per night guided the Mavericks to 50 wins for the season. 

An underrated supporting cast including P.J Washington, Derrick Lively II and Daniel Gafford were also instrumental in the charge. In the final 15 games of the regular season, the Mavericks had the best defensive rating in the competition at 106.1. 

Dallas will need to be at their defensive best if they want to advance to the Western Conference Semi-Finals.  

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Head-to-Head

The Clippers have the slight edge over the Mavericks in their three games this season. 

Dallas blew out LA in the opening game of the regular season series. In what was a high-scoring affair, Luka Dončić starred with 44 points, while Kyrie Irving added 27 of his own. The match marked the Clippers’ third loss in a row after the James Harden trade. 

Los Angeles returned serve 15 days later, winning 107-88. Paul George was the leading scorer for the Clippers with 25 points. Irving and Dončić combined for 56 points, although it was not enough. 

In the final matchup between the two sides, the Clippers were victorious once again. Kawhi Leonard had a 30-point double-double in the 120-111 defeat – the last win of a nine-game winning streak.  

Key Matchup

Kyrie Irving v James Harden

This will be an enticing matchup. Two players who are familiar with the playoff stage, Irving and Harden are relishing in new roles at their new teams. 

Both prolific shooters of the ball, the matchup will be won or lost on the defensive end. The Dallas Mavericks guard has had the edge in their two encounters this season. Irving might have shot better in these matches; however we all know what Harden is capable of with ball in hand. 

A three-time scoring champion, the 2018 NBA MVP has the ability to catch fire if given the opportunity, meaning Irving must remain alert on defence. 

Prediction: Clippers in 7

This should be an entertaining series. The Clippers have been waiting for the day they could field a full-strength team during the playoffs. While Kawhi Leonard is a game-time decision for game one, it is expected he will return at some point in the series. 

Behind Irving and Dončić, the Mavericks have been in form, but the spread of the Clippers gives them the upper hand in this battle. While Dallas have been solid in defence this season, their inexperience will have them on the back foot. 

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