DALLAS - After finishing the NBA regular season with a solid 42-30 record, the Dallas Mavericks will re-match the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round.
The Clippers and Mavericks are no stranger to each other in the NBA playoffs. Both teams faced off in the opening round of the 2020 NBA postseason and it was Los Angeles who came out on top - winning the series in six-games.
The Mavericks were led by a 21-year-old star going up against a team who was the NBA championship pick for many experts entering the start of postseason play.
There isn't a superstar teammate with Doncic entering this matchup, either, but he does have a strong complementary cast of talents around him. Most importantly, Kristaps Porzingis will be healthy to begin the series.
Before the Mavericks play Game 1 on Saturday, here are some bold predictions for the matchup.
5. Luka Doncic Averages A 30-Point Triple-Double
It's never easy averaging a triple-double, even if Russell Westbrook has made it feel that way in recent NBA seasons. That doesn't change in the playoffs, either.
During his first NBA playoff run, Doncic averaged 31.0 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 8.7 assists. He finished with two total triple-doubles and became the youngest player in league history with a playoff game-winner. This time? He will average a 30-point triple-double, and here's why.
Doncic will be well-rested before the start of this series thanks large in part due to the NBA play-in tournament. This should help him to have the stamina he needs to convert on tough shots and have explosiveness to get to the rim.
In addition to having that level of rest, Doncic and Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle are already quite familiar with what the Clippers' personnel could be deployed to do defensively throughout the course of a playoff series.
The Clippers undoubtedly will be prepared to hard hedge and double team Doncic throughout games. This is where his passing comes into play to achieve part of the triple-double average in the series. Meanwhile, he will put up clean up on the defensive glass often to jumpstart fast-breaks.
4. Tim Hardaway Jr. Averages Over 20 Points Per Game
A lot of focus has been placed on the impact that Kristaps Porzingis can make in the playoffs, and rightfully so. He's slotted as the second most important player and is facing what feels like a 'make or break' type of performance.
Another player that will play a pivotal role is Tim Hardaway Jr. and it will net him a scoring average in excess of 20 points per game for the series. For reference, he averaged 17.8 during last year's series and 16.6 during the 2019-20 regular season.
Teams have been sending significant defensive pressure to Doncic throughout the NBA regular season. A key contributor in those circumstances has been Hardaway Jr. as a counter to the defense.
Whether he's outright drilling a catch-and-shoot jumper or making something happen off-the-catch, Hardaway Jr. has thrived as Doncic's top complement and will be pivotal against the Clippers to continue doing so.
3. Kristaps Porzingis Makes Major Offensive Impact, But Leaves More Questions Than Answers
There's plenty of questions that face Kristaps Porzingis entering this playoff matchup. However, he will be beyond well-rested and without shortage of motivation to prove his impact.
It's important to put into perspective just how effective Kristaps Porzingis was offensively when he was on the floor in last year's playoffs. In three appearances, he averaged a staggering 23.7 points per game and produced a staggering 1.365 points per possession (PPP).
One of the more intriguing elements of the makeup of that statistic is how it was achieved despite Porzingis producing 0.167 PPP on post-ups while accounting for 11.5% of his offensive possessions.
Porzingis thrived by serving purely as a complementary talent. He was highly effective as a spot-up threat while making the Clippers' defense pay as a roll man after setting ball screens and as a cutter. If he's hitting shots, this should continue.
Even if Porzingis plays at a high-level offensively, there will still be questions about his defensive impact. The Clippers will likely look to play him off the floor by making him defend out in space, which he will come up short doing.
2. Josh Richardson Helps Mavericks Overcome Tough Matchup
When the Mavericks matched up with the Clippers in the NBA Bubble, there were limitations to how Dallas could matchup against Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
It's no secret that George struggled against the Mavericks. He averaged just 18.5 points per game while going 35.8% from the field and 27.5% from beyond the arc.
The mental and emotional toll the NBA Bubble played on George was self-described as having a strong negative impact on his performance. Having Josh Richardson to matchup with a likely improved George will be important.
George makes his mark as a knockdown perimeter shooter, whether in spot-up or coming off-screens. However, come playoff time, he turns more to his pick-and-roll and isolation scoring. That's where Richardson comes into play.
1. Clippers Win The Series In 6 Games
The Los Angeles Clippers are far from the typical fourth seed. After some questionable (perhaps outright tanking efforts) down the stretch, they finished lower in the standings than they were supposed to.
It appeared as though the Clippers truly wanted to matchup with the Mavericks in the opening round of the NBA playoffs. There are a few reasons for that.
The Mavericks have one perimeter star in Luka Doncic and while he's phenomenal individually, teams need a lot of firepower to win in the Western Conference playoffs. Their roster isn't quite there yet to combat superstar pairings.
What makes this a bold prediction is that despite the Mavericks receiving all of those contributions from key players to the magnitude that was predicted, they will lose the series.