Home Jazz Series preview: Dallas Mavericks (4) vs. Utah Jazz (5)

Series preview: Dallas Mavericks (4) vs. Utah Jazz (5)

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A healthy Luka Doncic might prove too big a task for Donovan Mitchell and the Jazz to slow down.

Cover of the Mavericks-Jazz series
2022 NBA playoff schedule

The Jazz and Mavericks head into the first round drifting in opposite directions, with Dallas winning 20 of 27 and the Jazz losing seven of their last 11, leaving the Clippers 25 leads and the Warriors 21. When the calendar shifted to 2022, they were among the top three in the West. But the playoffs serve as a reset, and in a series that is expected to be closely contested, anything is possible.

The Jazz once again proved to be a strong regular season team for the most part, riding the distinct skills of Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert to a win under 50. The core of the club remained intact for a year, except for the late Joe Ingles, and that familiarity has served Utah well. The Jazz are eager to recover from a pair of recent painful playoff outings, in 2020 at Denver and last season at the Clippers who were without Kawhi Leonard.

The Mavericks were rejuvenated by a mid-season trade that brought in Spencer Dinwiddie, whose late-game heroism on arrival was welcomed by a club that relies heavily on Doncic for the role. Dallas will often use three guards – Luka, Dinwiddie and Jalen Brunson – to their advantage and challenge teams to face them. Still, the Mavericks could use help from the big guys and were thrilled when Dwight Powell responded recently. Additionally, Dorian Finney-Smith has averaged nearly 14 points since February.


Three things to watch out for

1. Will Luka Doncic be too much to handle? The All-Star just put together an MVP-worthy season by leading the Mavericks in goals, assists, rebounds (which was particularly impressive, at 9.1) and steals, ranking among the leaders of the league in all categories. He’s also masterful at exploiting isolation mismatches, and in the past Dallas has created switches to put Doncic on Rudy Gobert. Usually that seems insane, given Gobert’s defense, but the crafty Luka won those battles. By the way, Doncic is struggling with a calf injury but has almost a week to rest.

2. Can Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell get along? Both All-Stars say all the right things, but there seems to be smoke if not fire between them, just by body language (from Mitchell when Gobert fumbles a pass, from Gobert when he doesn’t touch). Coach Quin Snyder pleaded for the outsiders to refrain from pulling them apart, as if the fans and the media really wield such power. Either way, winning cures everything, and the best way to quell all speculation is to win a round or two and move it on.

3. What if Utah’s 3-point shots don’t fall? That’s always been a problem with the Jazz, who rely on the long ball more than most teams. When they’re effective, they’re hard to beat. When they misfire, the Jazz only come off because they’re understaffed and a system for a plan B (no inside scoring, few players capable of hitting midrange jumpers).


The choice

When Tim Hardaway Jr. was lost for the year and the Mavericks finally lost patience with Kristaps Porzingis and traded him, Dallas seemed like a team caught in transition over the season, never a comfortable position. But Doncic suddenly went on a tear, and here they are. He looks set to produce an epic streak and you wonder if Utah, a bad defensive team outside of Gobert, has anyone who can stop him. The meaning is that Luka will put his signature on this first round. Mavericks in 6.