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

After a shootaround in Memphis during the Western Conference semifinals, Klay Thompson kept talking about having something to prove. He, Stephen Curry and Draymond Green went through so many different types of playoff battles along with Golden State and won three championships, yet he still felt something was missing.

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

There’s no certainty 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 defeated the highest ranked teams in the tense conference semifinal series. At the. 4-seeded Dallas beat the seed-headed Phoenix Suns, dominating playoff game 7. The Mavericks led by 46 points in the second half. Third-seeded Golden State won a close match against the second-seeded Memphis Grizzlies in a six-game physical series.

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

Curry, Thompson and Green have spent their entire careers with the Warriors and are eyeing a legacy-defining postseason. Curry has made the most 3-pointers in the NBA this season, with 285, despite missing 18 games. In the fall, he became the league’s career leader on 3 points made, passing Ray Allen.

Golden State also has the third year of point guard Jordan Poole, who has flourished this season and started 51 games. He even started a few games ahead of Curry in the playoffs as Curry was recovering from an injury. Golden State also has forward Andrew Wiggins, who played better than he is often credited with. He has been an effective rebound and an important defensive player 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-Phoenix series. He ended 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 also had an outstanding postseason. He is averaging 22.9 points per game in the playoffs, up from the regular season average of 16.3.

Quite remarkable.

The 2006-7 Golden State team is known as the We Believe team in Warriors lore. Led by Baron Davis and Stephen Jackson, it needed a season-ending push to reach the playoffs. There, Golden State encountered a team from Dallas that had reached the NBA Finals the previous season, losing to the Miami Heat.

Dallas reloaded and went 67-15 during the 2006-7 season, a league-best record. Dirk Nowitzki won the league’s Most Valuable Player award. The Mavericks didn’t lose a single game in February. This made what happened next even more shocking.

In the playoffs, Golden State, eighth seed, beat Dallas in six games. The magic was short-lived as the Warriors lost their second-round streak to the Utah Jazz in five games, but Team We Believe’s season remains significant for Golden State fans. It was also the last time Golden State faced Dallas in the playoffs.

After five consecutive NBA Finals appearances, luck ran out — at least momentarily — as of 2019.

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

So when Thompson recovered from his ACL injury, he tore his right Achilles tendon and also missed the 2020-21 season. Golden State did a little 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 like Poole, James Wiseman and Jonathan Kuminga to round out their stars. Wiseman is injured, but Poole and Wiseman have played an important role. Gary Payton II, who is older than Kuminga, Poole and Wiseman but finally landed a steady job in the NBA this season at age 29, was a boring defender until he broke his elbow against the Grizzlies in the conference semifinals. Golden State’s two-year absence from the playoffs has given its stars greater appreciation for being back this year.

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

The Mavericks also changed their roster this season, trading Kristaps Porzingis to 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 an important part of Dallas’ Game 7 victory over the Suns, scoring 30 points.

The team is an amalgamation of veterans with playoff experience unmatched among the remaining teams and youngsters who are in the postseason for the first time. This combination is hard to compete with: Curry, Green and Thompson are able to give Golden State’s younger players a crash course in how to win the playoffs. Young players provide a cushion when 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 full Mavericks team that smothered the Suns defensively in the conference semifinals. While Dallas’ defensive rating for the season was similar to Golden State’s, the Mavericks ended the year with strong defensive performances.

Stopping Doncic will be a challenge for Golden State as Dallas’ offense passes almost completely through him. Doncic ranked third in the NBA in points per game this season and fifth in assists per game. He’s a generational talent who embraces the pressure that comes with big moments.

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