2022 Western Conference finals preview: Warriors-Mavericks

SAN FRANCISCO — The Dallas Mavericks’ dominant performance in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals Sunday against the Phoenix Suns was a look at what’s to come for the Warriors.

The Mavericks, behind superstar Luka Doncic, sent the Suns packing for their end-of-season vacations much sooner than anticipated with a blowout victory. Dallas kept Phoenix to just 27 points and outscored its opponent by 30 at the half en route to the Mavericks’ series-clinching victory over the league’s best team during the regular season.

The Warriors must take Sunday’s rout as a warning after they advanced to their first Western Conference finals in three years following a rocky series against the young and athletic Grizzlies that was defined by up-and-down performances and drama that spilled into post-game press conferences.

Led by Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, the Warriors have far more experience at this stage than the Mavericks, who are making their first conference finals appearance in a decade. But Dallas got a major confidence boost after obliterating the Suns Sunday.

“This is what the playoffs are about, every opponent at this stage is going to pose a huge threat because only the best teams are left… so it’s all about figuring it out,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said prior to Game 7 on Sunday. “And I thought our team and our staff did a really good job kind of over the course of games 4, 5 and 6 of making that adjustment to the way the series had shifted and kind of finding a way to get through.”

Here’s what to know about how the Warriors may match up with Dallas:

Season series: Mavericks won 3-1

Does the regular season record really matter? The Warriors have already proven twice this postseason that it doesn’t, considering the Nuggets and Grizzlies, whom Golden State beat in the first and second rounds, also posted a 3-1 record against them this season.

At any rate, the Mavericks had the edge during the regular season, winning the last two contests by a combined 15 points. But the Warriors spanked Dallas in their second meeting in late January to the tune of 130-92.

Key match: Luka Doncic vs. Andrew Wiggins

At 23, Doncic has emerged as one of the youngest and brightest talents in the league. He earned his third All-Star nod this season and has stepped up his game in the postseason.

Doncic took over the series against the Suns and led Dallas to its first Western Conference finals appearance since 2011 when the Mavericks went on to win it all. Entering Sunday’s game, Doncic averaged 31.1 points, 10.1 rebounds and 6.9 assists in nine postseason games.

The Warriors were able to slow Nikola Jokic in the first round to advance, but Doncic might be their toughest defensive assignment yet. And it’ll likely be Andrew Wiggins who will take the majority of that burden.

Coming off his best performance of this postseason, Wiggins has shown a more consistent sense of urgency on defense during the playoffs. And Mike Brown, who was the Warriors acting head coach when Kerr was out with COVID-19, previously praised Wiggins for locking in on the defensive end.

“This morning during shootaround, I knew he’d have a big game because we changed our pick & roll coverage. And when we made the change, Wiggins asked, ‘Coach, do you want me to pick up Tyus Jones full-court?’” Brown said after Friday’s win. “I said, ‘Wiggs, you want to do that for 48 minutes?’ He said, ‘I’m locked in. I’ll do it for 48 minutes, you just tell me.’”

The Warriors will need more of that from Wiggins in this series.

Quick question: Are reinforcements coming for the Warriors?

The Mavericks aren’t as deep of a team, with coach Jason Kidd primarily sticking to an eight-man rotation, but the Warriors are shorthanded as they dealt with another round of injuries to key players.

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