What: 2022 NBA Playoffs Western Conference Semi-Finals, best of seven
When: Begins Monday, May 2 at 7:00PM AZ time
Watch: TNT for Game 1
Listen: 98.7 FM
*Note: all times EASTERN. Subtract 3 hours for local/Arizona time.
Suns are betting favorites
Check out DraftKings for the latest. Here’s all four betting lines as of 4/30.
How the Mavericks Got Here
Big trade unlocks success
When it comes to the Mavericks, we can only consider the time since their trade of Kristaps Porzingis for a combination of Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans. Since that trade, the Mavs have tied the Suns and Celtics with the most wins in the league (20) against the second-fewest losses (7).
Add in their ability to win a playoff series for the first time in Luka Doncic’s four-year career, you have to believe this is the best Mavericks team in a decade. The Mavericks could be the Suns toughest Western Conference playoff opponent yet over the last two seasons, with full health and a laser focus in the clutch.
Spread the floor, pull-up or attack the paint
Since the trade, they play a five-out offense and hoist threes at a high rate — 5th most attempts, 9th-highest 3P% — while sacrificing rebounds (25th-ranked, well behind the Suns 15th ranked over the same time period).
Like the Bled/Dragic-led Suns teams of yesteryear, most of their scoring comes from their playmakers. They rank just 29th in assists since the big trade, despite taking the 5th-most threes in the league. Luka Doncic, Jalen Brunson and Spencer Dinwiddie often begin and end possessions with a dribble drive or pullup.
The Mavs had the second-best record in the league since the Feb 10 trade (20-7 record) despite only posting the league’s 8th-best offense, 14th-best defense and 10th-best net rating (tied with New Orleans).
How? Winning the clutch, baby. They are a league-best 11-2 in the clutch since the trade. Their efficiency is off the charts, with a +38.6 net rating over 100 possessions that rivals the Suns at their best. They cut their turnovers to almost nothing, and make almost all their shots.
For reference, the Suns were 33-9 in the clutch this season. They were 24-3 before the All-Star break with a net rating of +41.2 over 100 possessions, but were just 9-6 in the clutch after the All-Star break as they lost a bit of focus with such a big lead over the field. The Suns lead in the West after the All-Star break never dropped below 5 games. Three of the Suns post-All-Star clutch losses were at the hands of the third-stringers during the last two weeks of the season (1-3 in the clutch in meaningless April games).
In each team’s first round playoff matchup, the Suns were 2-1 in the clutch with a +35 net rating per 100 possessions while the Mavericks were 3-2 with a +5.3 net rating per 100 possessions.
Suns/Mavs in the clutch this series will be bonkers.
First round playoffs recap
The Mavericks beat the Utah Jazz in six games, closing out the series on Utah’s floor on Thursday night.
Point guard Luka Doncic finally got his first playoff series win of his four-year career, which is the Mavericks first playoff series win since the 2011 Finals.
In the series, the Mavericks were 2-1 without Luka and then 2-1 with him. Luka averaged 29 points, 10.7 rebounds and 5.7 assists in the series. Sidekick Jalen Brunson led the team in the first three games without Luka. He averaged 32 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game in G1-3. Spencer Dinwiddie averaged 19.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 6.7 assists in those games as well. Once Luka returned, their numbers dropped to 23.7/4.3/3.0 and 11/2.3/2, respectively.
Dorian Finney-Smith is their version of Mikal Bridges, a candidate for the All-Defense team (maybe even first team) and making 40% of his spot-up threes (7 attempts per game) while playing 43 minutes a night in the first round. Reggie Bullock, who once had a cup of coffee with the Suns, was their second-leading minutes man (42m) with 40% three point shooting and good perimeter defense as well, during that round.
How the Suns Got Here
See my story earlier this month on just how good these Suns are, in historical context.
The 2021-22 Phoenix Suns started the season 1-3 after reaching the NBA Finals in 2021. Then they went on an 18-game winning streak, the longest in franchise history.
The Suns were the best in the league this season by a wide margin, and ended with the biggest lead (+8) over the next-best team in almost 30 years.
- Best overall record (64-18)
- Best clutch record (33-9)
- Best home record (32-9)
- Best road record (32-9)
- Best net rating (+7.5 points per 100 possessions)
- Best shooting percentage (48.5%)
First round playoffs recap
The Suns beat the New Orleans Pelicans in six games, closing out the series on NOLA’s floor on Thursday night.
The Suns were led by Chris Paul with 22.3 points, 11.3 assists and 55/31/96 splits over the whole first round. Deandre Ayton was the team’s second most reliable scorer in the series, with 20.5 points, 9.8 rebounds and 70/50/75 splits. All-Star Devin Booker averaged 23 points per game, but only played 2.5 of the 6 games.
The series really changed from the second half of game 2 through end of game 5 when Booker was out with a hamstring strain (they were 2-0 in games Booker finished, 2-2 in games he didn’t). In the full games without Booker (games 3-5), the scorers who stepped up the most were Bridges (18.7p) and Ayton (23.3), while Paul’s scoring actually dipped to 18.8 without Book.
Season Series — Suns vs. Mavericks
The Suns won the season series, 3-0, but none of those games were against the current iteration of the Dallas Mavericks. Since these games, the Mavs subtracted Kristaps Porzingis and Tim Hardaway Jr. while adding Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans.
- November 17 — Suns beat Mavs 105-98
- November 19 — Suns beat Mavs 112-104
In both games, the Suns beat a Mavericks teams without Luka Doncic. The Mavericks were led by Jalen Brunson, Kristaps Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Dorian Finney-Smith. Only Brunson and Finney-Smith will play in the upcoming playoff series, as KP was traded and THJ is injured (knee — out for season). These two wins were part of the Suns franchise-record 18-game winning streak.
- January 20 — Suns beat Mavs, 109-101
Luka played in this one, logging nearly a triple-double with 28/8/8. The Mavs (26-20) still had the same team otherwise, and still lost to the Suns. The Suns were even missing Deandre Ayton, getting 17 points and 8 rebounds combined from JaVale McGee and Bismack Biyombo.
- Only Dario Saric (OUT: knee/ACL surgery rehab) remains on the injured list. He won’t play in the series.
- Only Tim Hardaway Jr. (OUT: foot surgery) remains on the injured list. He won’t play in the series.
The Suns have gone all year without Saric, and the Mavericks have the third-best record in the NBA since Hardaway went down, behind only the Celtics and Suns.
The Mavericks match up much more evenly with the Suns, in terms of size, except that Deandre Ayton is much bigger than anyone in the Mavs rotation at center. Elsewhere, the Mavericks play a pair of swingmen at the forward spots just like the Suns do.
In the final minutes of the series vs. the Jazz, the Mavs went totally small for ball-handling and shooting, leaving Luka to guard the paint as the biggest guy on the court. That won’t work against Ayton.
The Mavericks are very good but the Suns are just better. They have a better offense, a better defense and are even better in the clutch.
This will be a tightly contested battle, but I see the Suns winning in 6 games.
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