On a night where there were a handful of outcomes for the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference standings, when the dust settled, there was a familiar first-round opponent staring them in the face in the Los Angeles Clippers.
Despite playing all of their starters on Sunday night, the Mavs fell at Minnesota, 136-121, dropping their final regular-season record to 42-30. Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis led the way for the Mavs, scoring 18 points each, although neither player played more than 26 minutes in this one. Dorian Finney-Smith, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Jalen Brunson all pitched in with 15 points each.
With the Lakers winning over the Pelicans, and the Blazers winning over the Nuggets, there was a three-way tie created in the West standings between Dallas, Portland and the Lakers. Because the Mavs were the only team of those three to win their division, they ended up with the 5th seed despite the loss. And because the Clippers out-tanked the Oklahoma City Thunder in their regular season finale to lose 117-112, the Clips ended up being the 4th seed in the final standings.
READ MORE: KP - We're 'Ready To Go' For Playoffs
This turn of events makes for some very juicy storylines as we inch closer to the NBA playoffs that will begin on Saturday.
Said Dallas coach Rick Carlisle: “It’s a very challenging series. They’re a top team. They’re a legitimate contending team. It’s a big challenge. But we’re looking forward to it.”
Last season, a very banged-up Mavs team gave Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and favored Clippers everything they could handle in the first round of the playoffs in the NBA's Orlando bubble. Although Doncic likely had 'the' shot of the playoffs, downing the Clippers with a step-back three-pointer at the buzzer to win Game 4 and tie the series at 2-2, the Mavs ultimately didn't have enough to finish the job and ended up losing the series 4-2.
Although the main characters from last year's series have stayed the same, the circumstances are slightly different this time around for Mavs-Clippers. The Clippers no longer have Montrezl Harrell, Lou Williams or JaMychal Green, three players who really gave the Mavs problems last year. On the flip side, the Mavs are much healthier now than they were last postseason.
Jalen Brunson, who had an excellent third season, will make his NBA playoff debut this year after missing last year due to a shoulder injury.
Said Brunson: “We have a great group of guys, and I think we can do a special thing together. It's time to lock in."
Kristaps Porzingis, who played very well against the Clippers last postseason, only played in 2.5 of the six games that series due to being controversially ejected in Game 1 and ultimately not being able to continue after Game 3 due to tearing his meniscus. Porzingis is healthy and ready to go, and will have another week to rest up before clashing with the Clippers yet again.
Said KP: “It was extremely important for us to get that first (playoff) experience, just to understand what the intensity's like and what's the emotional and mental state you're in when you go into the playoffs.
“Each game, it's like life or death."
Make no mistake, the Clippers are still going to be the favorites in this series, but the Mavs have a lot working for them this time around that they didn't have last season. Plus, when you have a healthy and rested Luka Doncic, the Mavs can beat any team in the lead on any given night... except for maybe the Sacramento Kings for some weird reason.
For now, we can sit back, enjoy the play-in games, and speculate on what will happen in this Mavs-Clippers rematch that should be nothing short of thrilling entertainment. Stay tuned to DallasBasketball.com all this week for detailed breakdowns of Mavs-Clippers 2.0.
Said Doncic on opposing Clippers again: "It's a hell of a matchup.”