The Western Conference Finals pit a team that’s been on this stage five times in the last decade against one that hasn’t been to this round in more than a decade.
The Finals favorite Warriors draw the Mavericks 15 years after these teams famously last met in the postseason. Golden State just beat the Grizzlies in six games, while Dallas sent home the top-seeded Suns in seven.
As the favorites to win it all, the Warriors are heavy favorites to take this series. But against Luka Dončić-led Dallas, it won’t come easy. Just ask Phoenix.
How should you bet on this best-of-seven series? I analyzed each team’s postseason performance, strengths and weaknesses and made my pick for the series.
I previously analyzed the Eastern Conference finals between the Heat and Celtics.
Series winner: Mavericks (+200) | Warriors (-250)
Series handicap: Mavericks +1.5 (-125) | Warriors -1.5 (-118)
Game 1: Wednesday, May 18 | 9 p.m. ET (TNT)
Game 2: Friday, May 20 | 9 p.m. ET (TNT)
Game 3: Sunday, May 22 | 9 p.m. ET (TNT)
Game 4: Tuesday, May 24 | 9 p.m. ET (TNT)
Game 5: Thursday, May 26 | 9 p.m. ET (TNT)*
Game 6: Saturday, May 28 | 8:30 p.m. ET (TNT)*
Game 7: Monday, May 30 | 8:30 p.m. ET (TNT)*
These teams have only met once in postseason history. You have to go back to 2007 to find that meeting, but it was a rather memorable one. The “We Believe” No. 8 Warriors upset the No. 1 Mavericks in six games in the first round. That upset marked one of four times in NBA history an 8seed has beaten a 1-seed.
With Golden State entering the series as the higher seed and the betting favorite, Dallas fans need not worry about another upset. In fact, the Mavericks won three of the four meetings between the teams this season. They won the first meeting at home, 99-82, in early January, then the Warriors evened the series with a 130-92 victory in San Francisco later that month. Dallas then won the next two—one at home, one on the road—in late February to early March by scores of 107-101 and 122-113.
The Warriors barely beat out the Mavericks for the No. 3 seed, which granted them home court for this series. Dallas was bearing down on Golden State down the stretch but ultimately came up short. And Luka Dončić suffered a hamstring injury in the regular-season finale, which held him out for the first few games of the Jazz series.
Golden State Warriors
The Warriors’ postseason metrics took a nosedive toward the tail end of the Grizzlies series. They rank sixth among playoff teams (third among the remaining teams) in offensive rating and sixth (once again third among teams that are left) in defensive rating. Still, their offense is intimidating even on its worst days.
Golden State averages 114.2 ppg and 27.8 assists per game, both tops in the playoffs. That’s facilitated by Steph Curry’s team-leading 26.9 ppg. Klay Thompson (20.4 ppg) and Jordan Poole (19.3 ppg) round out the scoring trio, and Andrew Wiggins is capable of providing tertiary scoring. The Warriors’ strength in all of its postseason runs over the last decade has been its sharpshooting, but they might be overmatched in that regard. They hit a blistering 14.3 threes per game, which matches their regular season output, but that figure ranks just third in the playoffs. The two teams outshooting them in the postseason—Boston and Dallas—are still standing.
Having four players capable of not only scoring 20 points but averaging that with ease during a series is a luxury few teams have. But Golden State’s offensive production dips after Wiggins. Draymond Green is the team’s next leading scorer and he looked allergic to shooting at times in the Memphis series before he finally looked to shoot in Game 6 and scored a playoff-high 14 points. The Warriors’ looseness with the ball is also a point of concern—they average 15.3 turnovers per game and are the only team left in the playoffs that give the ball away more frequently than they force turnovers.
Then, there’s the Warriors’ defense.
They still have capable defenders to throw at Dončić, like Green or Wiggins, but their three-point defense was exposed against the Grizzlies, who aren’t even an especially good shooting team. Dallas could hurt them there. It’ll be interesting to see how Steve Kerr elects to match up with the Mavericks and whether or not Game 6 hero Kevon Looney stays in the rotation to give the Warriors some size.
The Mavericks are resilient. They survived half of the Utah series without their best player and came back from 0-2 against Phoenix to win Game 7 on the road by 33 points. Stout defense, secondary scorers stepping up and the individual greatness of Dončić has Dallas back in the conference finals for the first time in a decade.
The No. 4 postseason offensive rating (and best rating of the remaining playoff teams) belongs to the Mavericks. Their defensive rating comes in at No. 7 (last among the remaining teams). Dallas has the third-best point differential in the playoffs (+4.3) despite averaging the 10th-most points per game, another credit to its defense, which keeps opponents around 101 ppg.
The Mavericks are one of the better teams in the playoffs at creating turnovers, about half of which come on steals. Perhaps their biggest weakness, and one Golden State could expose, is their rebounding deficiency. The 6’7” Dončić is their leading rebounder, hauling in double-digit boards—no one else averages six. That’s why Dallas is the second-worst rebounding team in the entire playoffs, only ahead of the Nets.
The story of the Mavericks’ offense starts and stops behind the three-point line. They lead the playoffs in attempts (40.1), makes (15.5) and they’re third in three-point percentage (38.5). Five players average two or more made threes per game and seven average at least one make from beyond the arc. That three-point onslaught is what allowed Dallas to stay afloat against the Jazz without Dončić and to defeat the Suns.
Dončić isn’t the best shooter on the team, but he’s the best scorer, leading the team with 31.5 ppg. Jalen Brunson has stepped up as a worthy No. 2 in the postseason and filled in as the leading scorer and distributor with Dončić out. Beyond those two, Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith, Reggie Bullock and Maxi Kleber all provide secondary scoring and have each stepped up and had big games in the playoffs.
This series will come down to the ability of the Mavericks’ role players to continue to hit shot like they have through two rounds. Dončić’s assist numbers have dipped as his scoring and shot attempts have risen. He’ll have to find the equilibrium between taking over and allowing Brunson and Dinwiddie to create alongside him in order to weather the Warriors’ storm.
BET: Mavericks +1.5 (-125)
This is me hedging from picking Dallas to win outright. Digging into these teams’ playoff numbers, it’s hard to go against the Mavericks, who should have the best player in this series. I certainly don’t love the value of picking the Warriors to win outright. Still, Golden State has been here before and performances like Games 3 and 6 against the Grizzlies remind me what that team can be and has been in the past.
I initially worried Dončić wouldn’t match up well against the Dubs, but he got around DPOY finalist Mikal Bridges and COTY Monty Williams’ game planning easily enough in the last round. He can certainly push this series to seven games.
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