Obviously, regular season series can’t perfectly predict the way a playoff series will go, but the Phoenix Suns’ dominance over the Dallas Mavericks in recent years is notable.
Before getting into why, it’s important to lay out the disclaimers about why this is a bit of a spotty exercise, especially in this case.
- Spencer Dinwiddie has been one of the most important ball-handlers for Dallas coming down the stretch of this season as well as into their first playoff series vs Utah. Dinwiddie didn’t play in any of the three regular season matchups against the Suns since those were all before February; he joined the team on Feb. 10 in a trade.
- Jalen Brunson, also one of the Mavs’ key ball-handlers, has reached a new level in the playoffs that the Suns haven’t seen yet. After never scoring 20-plus points vs Phoenix in the regular season, Brunson has scored 23-plus in each of the playoff games as well as a 41-point outburst in game 2.
By the numbers:
The Suns did, in fact, sweep the season series with Dallas 3-0.
- Nov. 17, 2021 – Suns win 105-98 in Phoenix
- Nov. 19, 2021 – Suns win 112-104 in Phoenix
- Jan. 20, 2022 – Suns win 109-101 in Dallas
(Average margin of victory of 7.7 points)
As for how some of the Suns fared…
- Chris Paul: 15 points, 4.7 rebounds, 13 assists, 1.7 steals per game
- Devin Booker: 23.7 points, 5 rebounds, 2.3 assists
- Mikal Bridges: 13.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 2.7 steals
- Cam Johnson: 8.7 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.3 assists
- Jae Crowder: 10.7 points, 2.7 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 1.7 steals
- Deandre Ayton (two games): 13.5 points, 15 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block
Some numbers as a team… (relative to first round series vs New Orleans)
- Net rating of +6.7 (+2.2, worst among round two participants)
- 22.6 OREB% (23.0)
- 33.7 3P% (31.9)
- 26.7 assists to 11.0 turnovers (26.8 to 11.0)
- Ayton is a career 8-1 against Doncic
Defensively, the best pick-and-roll defending tandem in the league - Bridges and Ayton - defended the Mavericks excellently in the regular season and are poised to do so again. Bridges allowed an average of 5-13 (38.5%) and Ayton allowed 8-18.5 (43.2%).
With the addition and deeper integrations of Dinwiddie and Brunson, the task will be a little tougher on the Suns. Assuming Bridges and Crowder split time on Doncic, that leaves Brunson for one of Paul or Booker; Dinwiddie has come off the bench in the last three games, so that’ll be tougher to predict.
On the offensive end, this will be a series full of pigeons.
The Mavericks are one of the smallest teams left when it comes to frontcourt size, utilizing 6-foot-10 Maxi Kleber (23.3 minutes in round one) and 6-foot-10 Dwight Powell (17.7). Neither of these guys pose the defensive presence inside that Jonas Valanciunas did in round one against Ayton, and he should be able to take advantage of that.
Even when the Mavericks go with their patented small lineup - Doncic, Brunson, Dinwiddie, Reggie Bullock, and Dorian Finney-Smith - that earned a +9.6 rating in its 18 first round minutes, Ayton should be able to thrive on both ends. Sometimes that’ll look like a sort of coverage with him roaming around the nail and cutting off driving lanes on the defensive end, and sometimes it’ll look like merciless doses of his lethal hook shot and rim pressure on rolls and drives.
If I know anything about Paul and Booker’s approach to these sorts of matchups, I know they’ll want to involve Doncic in as many offensive actions as they can. Like many larger initiators, Doncic is a decent defender in iso and post situations, so they’ll have to be cautious when operating in more isolated scenarios with him. He does, however, struggle when you make him cover a lot of ground and set up different deterrents, like screens and slips. Wearing out Doncic on that end will be just as key to slowing him as the actual defense played on him itself.
As for the coaching matchup, this likely won’t be nearly as strenuous as the matchup with Willie Green. Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd isn’t all that advanced of an offensive mind, and their offense can often morph into just pick-and-roll reliance or iso ball. Kidd’s calling card is usually defense, and that’s evidenced by their jump from 21st in defense a year ago to 7th in this, Kidd’s first, season, but as mentioned earlier, exploiting matchups can mitigate their strength in that area.
Just like the Pelicans, the Mavericks are a team that demands to be taken seriously. They have a potential first-team All-NBA leader with additional dangerous ball-handlers and a lot of depth on the wings. While the Suns move onto round two with the worst remaining net rating (2.2) in the playoffs, the Mavericks are 5th in that department.
While the Mavericks are certainly capable of making it a long series, or even winning it, it could just as easily look like last year’s second round when the Suns took the season’s MVP and ran him out of his own building in just 4 games.
If I had to make a prediction, I’d say Suns in 5.