A little more than two weeks ago, the Dallas Mavericks began their second-round playoff series against the Phoenix Suns, owners of the NBA’s best record. No one—me included—thought they stood a chance.
Well, almost no one. Because StrongSide’s very own Brian Dameris saw the Mavs’ upset victory coming from a mile away, which means we had to have him back for a Vibe Check ahead of the conference finals. Will Dallas shock the NBA world once again and return to its first NBA Finals since winning it all in 2011? Let’s get his takes on that and much more:
You called your shot! You were correct! But you have to admit, after Game 2, you were having some second thoughts, right?
Well, yeah. When presented with having to win four out of five against the best team in the league? Yeah, I think so.
But this team believes in itself, and I know from talking to people inside the organization that they felt they gave Game 1 away. They really believe if they play their style and they execute on both ends of the floor and set the tone and dictate the terms, not that they can win but that they will win. That not only goes for Phoenix but everyone else left on the court. There really is an internal belief that they can set the tone and do what they need to do and win. And, oh, by the way, you have the best player in the league left standing.
So I think all that adds to this chemistry and love that you’re feeling. Winning helps everybody feel good, but they really do feel internally they can break the spirit of another team, and I think you saw that in Game 7, when Phoenix totally broke. They didn’t know what to do.
Game 7 notwithstanding, because nobody envisioned a meltdown like that, did you see anything in the Suns series that surprised you?
To be honest, the way their defense was able to neutralize what Phoenix was able to do. They held Phoenix to their three lowest-scoring games of the season in this series. They were able to keep a body on Deandre Ayton; he really was only effective in Game 1. They were able to neutralize Devin Booker for two straight games. And they quieted Chris Paul for five of the seven games, all in the last five games of the series. I think part of that, in Paul’s case specifically, was having to work so much on the defensive end, and we might have to see that same model used in this upcoming series.
Golden State represents a different type of challenge. We can decide how much bigger it is than Phoenix and Utah, but it’s a very different team. So how will they push Dallas in a different way from their first two opponents?
First of all, they have experience. They’ve been here before with their big three of Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, and Steph Curry. You saw in Game 5 of the Memphis series that the Warriors basically played with their food for 47 and a half minutes and decided how they wanted to win the game. So they do the experience factor, and they have guys who can absolutely hoop at five different positions when they play small.
The real key is going to be how they’re going to defend Steph. Are they going to trap them like they did in the last game of the regular-season series, when he didn’t get a shot attempt in the fourth quarter? But they didn’t have Draymond in that game. Klay was basically fresh off his injury. Moses Moody actually went for 12 points on five of five. So do you dare get the others involved and try to neutralize Curry? How are they going to approach that defensively?
Paint me a portrait here: if the Mavericks do win this series, what does that look like and what has to happen?
Luka Doncic has to pick his spots. He has to know when to look for his own shot. I think they’re going to defend him and stay home on shooters like you saw Phoenix do early in the series and let him cook, and he’s going to be able to do that. He’s going to be able to pick his partner. He’s going to go after Steph Curry. He’s going to go after Jordan Poole. He’s going to go after Klay. They’re going to try and get Draymond in foul trouble. But he’s also going to have to get the Mavericks in the blender and get everyone else shooting. That’s the only way they can win, if everybody contributes, and all those Reggie Bullocks, Dorian Finney-Smiths, Maxi Klebers are hitting those threes.
And on the defensive end, they really have to disrupt what the Warriors want to do in this series. The Mavericks will not have the rebounding disadvantage they had in the first two series, but they are going to have to fight to win those rebounding battles. It’s very even. The three-point battle, they’re not going to have those huge advantages. They’re not going to have that 132-point advantage like they did in the first series or even what they had against Phoenix. But they’re going to have to get turnovers. The Warriors turn the ball over like crazy, and the Mavericks are going to have to run, run, run in transition when they do.
That last point is pretty key because Dallas likes to play at a deliberate pace. The Mavericks can run, given the playmakers they have. Do you think they’re up to convincing themselves that they should given who they’re playing?
I think you have to run in character. Which means when you get turnovers, tear down court, get in your offense quickly—what Jason Kidd and Luka talk about is not playing iso ball and waiting until there are five seconds left on the shot clock but getting something in the first seven seconds. And if that doesn’t work, you still have time to figure out what you want to do. But they’re able to fast break at opportune times while also even after made baskets, getting into the offense early, before the defense is able to reset.
I am told that the genius switch still has no off position, which means you’re going back on the hot seat to prove it again. You got the last series right. Give me the official Dameris prediction: who wins, how many games, and why?
I’m riding the wave, Mike! Mavericks in six. They are going to take one of the first two games in Golden State. I think that the Warriors are not the Warriors of five years ago. So those small little advantages we’re talking about plus matchups. Luka’s absolutely going to be able to get his own and get others involved. The defense is going to be able to step up in a way that will force the Jordan Pooles of the world and the Andrew Wigginses of the world to try to play better than I think they are, and they’re not going to be able to pull it off. So give me a Finals run for the Mavs.