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Preview: The Suns get a shot at prime time and the Dallas Mavericks

The first true bubble test comes in the form of Luka Doncic, Kristaps Porzingis, and the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday night.

Phoenix Suns v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

What: Dallas Mavericks (40-28) vs Phoenix Suns (26-39)

When: 6 p.m. MST

Where: Orlando Bubble

Watch: Fox Sports Arizona

Listen: 98.7 FM


Projected Starters

Suns: Ricky Rubio, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson, Deandre Ayton

Mavericks: Luka Doncic, Seth Curry, Tim Hardaway, Jr., Dorian Finney-Smith, Kristaps Porzingis,


Phoenix Suns

Ah, it felt good to get that first one. The Suns looked impressive in their 125-112 victory on Friday against the Washington Wizards. That being said, it was the Wizards. The competition will be much more difficult come Sunday evening.

“We can’t play with the best teams in the league if we don’t play hard,” head coach Monty Williams noted when asked if teams are coming out flat in their second bubble game (see: the Jazz performance against OKC and the Pelicans getting their teeth kicked in by the Clippers).

Williams, who had to navigate an Aron Baynes and Kelly Oubre-less lineup, did well with his rotations, maximizing the ability to maintain offensive output throughout the game. I really liked the Cameron Payne-Jevon Carter-Devin Booker trio that Monty deployed midway through the second quarter. Although small, the Payne/Carter duo created havoc on defense and Booker provided the points necessary for the lineup to be successful.

Dario Saric was first off the bench to spell Cameron Johnson. His hustle, heart, and ball handling (really? Point Dario?) were strengths that bled into the second team and kept the offense humming.

“I feel better when I’m starting. Maybe it just natural, maybe its just in my head,” Saric said. “It was tough to get warm the first couple minutes.”

But warm he got. If Saric can continue to excel and lead the second team, the Suns depths issues can be addressed.

Booker will look to improve his efficiency, as the 38.1% from the field and 28.6% from three that he posted against Washington will not cut it against the Mavericks. Expect plenty of traps and double teams from Dallas as they attempt to do what pretty much every team does against Phoenix: take the ball out of Booker’s hands. If the team can display early consistent offensive output from the likes of Ayton, Bridges, Johnson, and Rubio, that pressure releases and Booker excels.

Dallas’ size will be a challenge for Phoenix. The Mavs have some giants, rostering 7’3” Kristaps Porzingis and 7’4” Boban Marjanovic. Sprinkle in some 6’10” Maxi Kleber (who hails from the same hometown as Dirk Nowitzki) and the team is large. They can throw long lineups at the Suns which can fluster Deandre Ayton, especially if he continues to play tentative. If he comes out aggressive, forcing the issue on the interior, and gets Dallas’ bigs into foul trouble, good things will happen. The Mavs size will also limit the effectiveness of Dario Saric, who had a stellar effort against Washington.

Dallas Mavericks

Do you like advanced stats? How about this one: with a 116.8 offensive rating, the Dallas Mavericks own the best offensive rating in NBA history. Despite that statistic, however, they have challenges in clutch time moments (under five minutes in the game and teams within five points of each other). Their offensive rating falls to 92.9 and they are 10-21 in those contests. This occurred once again on Friday night when the Mavs coughed up a 7 point lead with 45 seconds to go against the Houston Rockets, ultimately losing in OT 153-149.

The #7 seed in the Western Conference has the talent, led by the impressive second year talents of Luka Doncic. They have the confidence; they attempt 41.6 three-pointers per game (that is 10 more per game than the Suns). They have the scoring power as they are third in the league with 116.8 points-per-game. Then of course there is that size.

We know Luka, we know Porzingis. What makes this team lethal is Luka’s distribution ability to a plethora of role players (kind of like how Nash made Raja Bell an offensive threat). Tim Hardaway, Jr., Seth Curry, Dorian Finney-Smith, Maxi Kleber, Trey Burke...these names don’t strike fear into the heart of the opposition. But when they receive the ball in space and rhythm, you’ll learn to respect those names real quick.

Key Matchup

Luka vs. Bridges. Seeing these two go up against each other is worth the price of admission. If you were paying to see them. In an arena that had other fans. You know what I mean.

Per NBA Advanced Stats, Luka and Bridges have matched up for a total of 5:24 this season. Doncic scored 5 points and 1 assist on 20.7 possessions. Bridges forced 3 turnovers. I expect the number of minutes Mikal spends tending to Luka to increase on Sunday night in an effort to force the ball out of his hands and make him work for every inch.

Prediction

The teams have met twice this season, with the Suns losing at home 120-113 in November and winning 133-104 in late-January. The latter was one of the best wins of the season for Phoenix, as it displayed the power of the BOBRA, and was the largest road victory since 2007.

Monty Williams said of the 29 point victory, “It’s a totally different game. We did play well that night, but we cannot rest on what we did in the previous game.”

I predicted a 6-2 bubble record for the Phoenix squad. I’m trying hard to be ‘Optimistic John’. I’m trying real hard, Ringo. Everything is telling me that the Mavs are frustrated coming off that embarrassing overtime loss against Houston and will take it out on the Suns. Everything is telling me that Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle will have his team ready to stomp the Suns.

But I’m Optimistic John in the bubble.

The Suns will be in prime time. It will be Ayton vs. Luka, Round 5. Ayton is 3-1 in previous bouts. He is a better three-point shooter than Luka this season, shooting 33.3% from beyond the arc (and 66.7% in Orlando). Luka shoots a measly 31.4%.

Suns 124, Mavs 122