NBA Preview: Golden State and the Dallas Mavericks Battle in the West

After a shooting in Memphis during the Western Conference semifinals, Klay Thompson kept talking about proving something. He, Stephen Curry and Draymond Green, along with Golden State, had been through so many different types of playoffs and won three championships, yet he felt like something was missing.

“I think we still have to prove that we want to go down as one of the greats,” Thompson said. “And the big ones have won in several decades, and we have yet to win in the 2020s. So it’s there for us.”

Not sure this year, but the next step in their quest begins Wednesday when they face the Dallas Mavericks in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.

Dallas and Golden State disrupt higher-ranking teams in exciting series of conference semifinals. The fourth-placed Dallas defeated the top seeded Phoenix Suns to dominate the deciding Game 7. The Mavericks led by 46 points in the second half. Three-seeded Golden State won a hard-fought game against the second-seeded Memphis Grizzlies in a six-game physical series.

Here’s what to expect in the Western Conference final.

Curry, Thompson and Green have spent their entire careers with the Warriors and are looking forward to a storied run after the season. Curry made the most 3-pointers in the NBA this season, with 285, even though he missed 18 games. In the fall, he became the league’s career leader in three-point scoring, passing Ray Allen.

Golden State also features third-year guard Jordan Poole, who has blossomed this season, starting in 51 games. He even started a few games for Curry in the playoffs as Curry worked his way back from injury. Golden State also has forward Andrew Wiggins, who has played better than he often gets credit for. He was an effective rebounder and a key defensive piece for Golden State.

The Mavericks are led by Luka Doncic, who averages 31.5 points per game in the playoffs and scored 45 points in Game 1 of the Dallas series against Phoenix. He finished the series with 27 points in the first half of Game 7 – as many as the entire Suns team had scored. Point guard Jalen Brunson has also had a notable postseason. He has a playoff average of 22.9 points per game, up from his regular season average of 16.3.

A striking one.

Golden State’s 2006-7 team is known as the We Believe team in Warriors lore. Led by Baron Davis and Stephen Jackson, it needed a little push at the end of the season to make it to the playoffs. There, Golden State met a premier Dallas team that had made it to the NBA Finals the previous season and lost to the Miami Heat.

Dallas had reloaded and gone 67-15 during the 2006-7 season, the best record in the league. Dirk Nowitzki won the competition’s most valuable player award. The Mavericks did not lose a single game in February. It made what happened next all the more shocking.

Eighth-placed Golden State defeated Dallas in six games in the playoffs. The magic was short-lived as the Warriors lost their second-round series to the Utah Jazz in five games, but that We Believe team season remains meaningful to Golden State fans. It was also the last time Golden State faced Dallas in the playoffs.

After five consecutive NBA finals, luck ran out – at least temporarily – as of 2019.

Thompson and Kevin Durant suffered serious injuries during the 2019 final against Toronto. Thompson tore his left anterior cruciate ligament, and Durant tore his right Achilles tendon, then left for the Nets free-choice. Curry broke his left hand in the fourth game of the 2019-20 season and only played one more game that season. Without Curry and Thompson, Golden State missed the playoffs.

When Thompson recovered from his ACL injury, he tore his right Achilles tendon and also missed the 2020-21 season. Golden State was slightly better last season, finishing eighth in the West, but missed the playoffs after losing in the play-in tournament.

While the Warriors waited, they added talented young players such as Poole, James Wiseman and Jonathan Kuminga to complement their stars. Wiseman was injured but Poole and Wiseman were key players. Gary Payton II, who is older than Kuminga, Poole and Wiseman but finally landed a stable NBA job at 29 this season at age 29, was a nasty defender until he broke his elbow against the Grizzlies in the conference semifinals. Golden State’s two-year absence from the playoffs gave the stars a heightened appreciation for their return this year.

They have a new coach in Jason Kidd, who played for the Mavericks twice, including after drafting him second overall in 1994. He was head coach in Brooklyn and Milwaukee and spent one year with the Nets and four with the Bucks. Kidd was an assistant coach for the Lakers for two seasons before Dallas hired him last summer to replace longtime coach Rick Carlisle.

The Mavericks also shuffled their roster this season, trading Kristaps Porzingis for the Wizards for Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans. It was a clear indication that they were giving the reins of their team to Doncic. Dinwiddie also became a key part of Dallas’s Game 7 win over the Suns, scoring 30 points.

The team is an amalgamation of veterans with unparalleled playoff experience among the remaining teams and youngsters entering the postseason for the first time. That combination is hard to compete with: Curry, Green and Thompson can give Golden State’s younger players a crash course on how to win the playoffs. The young players offer a cushion when the veterans need to recharge.

Not to mention, Curry and Thompson are still playing at All-Star levels now that they’re healthy.

It’s tempting to just write “Luka Doncic” and call it a day, but that doesn’t give enough credit to a well-rounded Mavericks team that defensively choked the Suns in the conference semifinals. While Dallas’ defensive rating for the season was comparable to Golden State’s, the Mavericks ended the year with a strong defensive performance.

Stopping Doncic will be a challenge for Golden State, as Dallas’ attack goes almost entirely through him. Doncic finished third in the NBA this season in points per game and fifth in assists per game. He is a generational talent that welcomes the pressure that comes with big moments.

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