Monday Donuts: Inside Clippers' Plan To Stop Luka

Mike Fisher

To be fair, the Los Angeles Clippers didn't exactly "stop'' Luka Doncic in last week's meeting/likely NBA Playoffs Round 1 preview. But they did survive him and they do have some thoughts. So ... Dallas Mavs Monday Donuts: Inside The Clippers' Plan To Stop - Er, Slow - Luka Doncic ...

DONUT 1: 'SLOW' IS THE WORD By the time we get to the final boxscore of most Dallas Mavericks games, there is rarely any black-and-white evidence that Luka Doncic has been "stopped.''

The Los Angeles Clippers, by virtue of last week's 126-111 win over Dallas in which Doncic finished with a stellar stat line of 29 points, three rebounds and six assists, have evidence of that.

Oh, and in case someone is unconvinced? Luka provided more evidence on Saturday in yet another of those "that's-the-best-Luka's-ever-played'' games, a 136-132 victory over the vaunted Bucks in which he posted another huge triple-double with 36 points, a career-high 19 assists and 14 rebounds.

"(He) makes his teammates better. Talented. Really talented," said the Bucks MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. "(He's) one of the most talented guys I've played against."

Added coach Rick Carlisle in summarizing the pair of outings: "These last two games, the Clippers and Milwaukee, you’ve got two of the best teams on the planet. This is great experience for us in preparation for whoever we are going to play (in the playoffs).”

And in total in the bubble? Luka's 33.4 points rank him third in bubble scoring. His 11.6 rebounds rank him fifth. And his 11.6 assists rank him first.

READ MORE: How The Clippers Pulled Away From The Mavs

READ MORE: Mavs Exorcise Demons, Edge Bucks in OT

So, as the No. 7-seeded Mavs prepare for a likely NBA Playoffs Round 1 series against the No. 2-seeded Clippers (hanging on to dear life there, with the Nuggets just a game back) is there anything from these two games against superpowers that L.A. can use in a way that at least slows Doncic?

DONUT 2: THE CREDENTIALS Over the weekend, it was revealed that Luka failed to finish in the top three in MVP voting. (As did L.A.'s Kawhi Leonard.)

READ MORE: Luka Not In Top 3 MVP Finalists, But Is Up For MIP

But Luka will get votes there. As will Kawhi. (And Giannis could repeat as the winner.) So it stands to reason that when each team composes its scouting report on the other, those two names will be featured at the top, and may take up a page or two.

Luka, Clippers second-banana star Paul George said, "is a guy that you have to game-plan around.''

DONUT 3: THE LEARNING CURVE And Kristaps Porzingis has it exactly right when he says that Clippers-Mavs game must, in terms of scouting, serve as a learning experience, for both clubs.

“It was kind of a preview of what could happen in the playoffs,” KP said. “So I think for both teams it was probably good. Now, it is going to be a matter of who makes the better adjustments if we do meet each other in the playoffs.''

Dallas, frankly, is the team that needs to make up gap-closing ground in terms of the learning curve.

DONUT 4: BY THE NUMBERS So yes, Doncic finished that Clippers game with 29 points, three rebounds and six assists. But to L.A., it's more about what he didn't do. 

The first-team All-Star had recorded three consecutive triple-doubles before that outing. (Make it four with the Bucks game, and another "didn't do'': He only committed two turnovers). He's had games in which he scored 40 and 34 points. And in which he's recorded 20 rebounds. And in which he's recorded 19 assists. He was even the leader of a parade to the free-throw line. 

Against the Clippers? He didn't score 40. He didn't grab 20 rebounds. he didn't get 19 dimes. He didn't get to the line 20 times - indeed, he was allowed only six free throws against them, about three below his season average.

DONUT 5: TAKING TURNS It appeared from here that Leonard and George took turns checking Doncic in that game. They are, we've said often, the embodiment of Dallas' "Kryptonite'' in the sense that they are the sort of big, long, strong, athletic wings that mean matchup nightmares for the Mavs.

But we've usually meant that about them as offensive powerhouses, guys who against Dallas often find themselves being checked by the likes of Maxi Kleber (who actually did a nice job against Kawhi) and Tim Hardaway Jr. (who might be the guy coach Rick Carlisle is talking about when he mentions the Mavs' "physical disadvantage'' against L.A.)

READ MORE: Mavs Are At A 'Physical Disadvantage' Against Clippers

DONUT 6: BOTH-END GUYS To the credit of Dallas' two biggest stars, Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, they have in the Orlando Bubble flexed some defensive muscle. KP has served as a shot-blocking weapon and Carlisle has heaped praise on Luka's work on "the other end.''

But "big, long, strong, athletic wings'' they are not - not in the sense that Leonard and George are. And this is where the Clippers' defensive philosophy against Luka comes into focus.

DONUT 7: WHAT LUKA DOES TO THEM “You see,'' George said, "how he just constantly put pressure on us.''

What a compliment this is! Leonard and George and company feel constantly under attack, constantly threatened, all due to the presence of the 21-year-old Doncic.

The Bucks felt that pressure in OT, when with 1:08 remaining Doncic executed the play of the game ... a ballsy, left-handed, between-the-legs bounce pass underneath Giannis to the cutting Maxi Kleber ...

Said Carlisle: “I clapped. I applauded. I thought it was phenomenal. ... I’d pay money to watch him play. I don’t say that about a lot of players, but he’s really special. Luka’s not only a great basketball player. He’s a great performer.”

Said Luka: “I don’t know why I did it. I just did it. I didn’t think about it before.”

READ MORE: Rick Raves About 'Kidd/Bird-Like Luka

DONUT 8: WHAT THEY DO TO LUKA L.A.'s return serve?

Pressure in return. Pressure of a different sort - but "pressure'' just as "constant.''

"This team,'' George said, speaking of his Clippers, "we have so many defenders, we got so many guys, it’s just tough over a full game where you have to go through defender after defender. At some point, you get worn down.''

DONUT 9: A DINGED-UP DONCIC? Indeed, Luka's sheer style of play - and how defenses must react - is why he's forced to battle through games with a jammed thumb here and a wobbly ankle there. Yes, teams try to "get physical'' with him, but it's more than that.

READ MORE: Concerns About A Dinged-Up Doncic?

“He’s a great passer, can get to the hole, gets to the free-throw line, shoots the 3 well,'' Kawhi said. "He has the whole package so we’ve got to be ready.”

"Ready'' with what?

“Just showing bodies, bodies in front of him,” Leonard said.

DONUT 10: THE AVAILABLE ANSWERS Certainly continued help from KP is necessary; he's been just about as statistically brilliant as Luka has for most of the time in Orlando. A quick maturation of this roster in clutch time - a season-long bugaboo - would be nice.

READ MORE: Can Dallas Solve Its Bubble Struggle From The Arc?

And Dallas' No. 1 weapon, its perimeter marksmanship - needs to be on the mark in a way that it has not during most of these seeding games.

Or, Luka could do more. ... though that seems almost an inhumane to ask of him.

Of course ... that's exactly what happened on Saturday. The Mavs asked the impossible of Doncic against the Bucks ... and he delivered the impossible.

Said Carlisle: “This guy is a phenomenal player and he’s getting better really by the hour, by the day ... "The leadership aspect of it is ... just as big as these ridiculous statistics that he’s putting up.”

One more idea: How about some rest in meaningless games?

DONUT 11: WHAT'S ON TAP The Mavs are coming off a meeting (and a spectacular win) against another high-profile and highly-ranked foe in the Milwaukee Bucks. They are now 2-3 in the bubble and 42-30 overall and today face the 43-27 Utah Jazz, losers of two straight, in a 2 p.m. CT tip in the bubble.

And rest is coming. Luka, KP and Dorian Finney-Smith are all scheduled to sit today. Here's the story, and the explanation.

DONUT 12: THE FINAL WORD ""We've got it in us. We have young guys, so we aren't going to learn this in one night. You learn through your career. We showed today we can do it." - Luka Doncic on the Mavs performing in big-time clutch spots.

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