Saturday, June 15, 2024 Jun 15, 2024
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Mavs Vibe Check: Brian Dameris Sets the Table For the Suns

Phoenix is the NBA's best team and Dallas' bogeyman. What are the chances of an upset?

For the first time in 11 years, the Dallas Mavericks are playing in the second round of the NBA playoffs. If you’ve forgotten what to expect or what that feels like—well, you’re not alone.

So it’s only right that we take the temperature of StrongSide’s own Brian Dameris, who once served as the team’s director of basketball development and whom you can hear on The Ticket and with Mavs play-by-play man Mark Followill on the Take Dat Wit You pod, as well as watch on Bally Sports Southwest. We chatted about his biggest surprise from the Utah series and the possible road map for upsetting the Phoenix Suns, who are not only the NBA’s best team this season but have defeated the Mavericks in 16 of their last 19 meetings.

Is there hope? Brian says yes.

Let’s start by reflecting for a moment on the Jazz. Now that it’s in the books, what was the biggest thing that surprised you in the Utah series?

I think the play of the team without Luka and the ability of Jalen Brunson to step up the way he stepped up, especially when you consider how last playoffs [against the Clippers] went for him. He was basically played off the floor, and in the decisive Game 7, they had to go to Trey Burke instead of him. For him to average 28 points with four turnovers—and that’s not four turnovers a game: that’s four turnovers for the series—is absolutely remarkable.

And the other thing is just everybody played a role at some point. Spencer [Dinwiddie’s] game was Game 6. Maxi [Kleber’s] game was Game 2. The bench’s game was Game 3. Everybody played a role, and when Luka came in, they just hit turbo.

Now it’s Phoenix, which is not just the NBA’s bogeyman but Dallas’, especially. The Suns have been beating this team for five years—it’s really remarkable. This is such a complete team, and they have so much going for them. What is the biggest area of concern that you have against Phoenix?

Crunch time. Now, remember, of the three games this year, two of them were played in December before the Mavs really started going. But in those games, the Mavs had leads of at least five points going into crunch time and gave them up. The last game they played at home was with Tim Hardaway and Kristaps Porzingis. So the Mavericks haven’t played them after the [Porzingis] trade, but Chris Paul’s ability to take over—we saw it Thursday night in their closeout game with New Orleans—if you don’t have a healthy lead going into the fourth, you’ve got to really bear down. 

So that’s my main concern. And the other one would be Deandre Ayton. He’s not Rudy Gobert: Ayton can punish you offensively if you’re trying to play small. 

This is a pretty uphill climb. If the Mavericks do have a pathway to victory in this series, what does it look like?

I think it starts defensively and your ability to, with Reggie Bullock and Dorian Finney-Smith, do what you can to neutralize CP3 and Devin Booker. Then it’s—coming back to Ayton—what can you do to keep a body on him and not get killed on the glass again like you were in the early part of the Jazz series? You’ve got to play a similar type of defense.

Now Phoenix is not afraid of the midrange, so you can’t just go all out to close out on shooters. You’ve got to close out on shooters, obviously, but they’re going to weave in the midrange and have a much better two-point game if you just give that to them. So you let them shoot twos and try to hit threes, but that’s going to be the key. And, offensively, Mikal Bridges is one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, if not the best perimeter defender. So he’s going to be on Luka and, everybody else is going to have to help out on the pick-and-roll and help out and hit shots. 

Obviously Luka has to be Luka for them to win this series, and Brunson probably has to play closer to his current level, too. Beyond that, who is the guy who has to step up and play out of his mind for Dallas to have a chance?

The easy answer would be Finney-Smith because of his defense and his ability to hit shots, and Bullock again, alluding to the fact that the Mavericks need that second perimeter defender. But I’m going to go with Dinwiddie. I think that you saw them stumble onto this micro ball lineup with the three playmakers and the two 3-and-D guys, and Dinwiddie finally kind of showed up in Game 6. If he can be the guy who punishes Phoenix on the offensive end with his drives to the bucket to get his own shot, get fouled, or drive and kick, that’s going to be absolutely huge for what the Mavericks can do offensively. I’m really looking for him to step up and make a difference here because I’m really worried about Maxi in foul trouble against Ayton, and we know what Davis Bertans is like defensively, so I’m worried about the bench and I think that small lineup is really going to have to step up.

I’m going to put you on the spot: give me the Brian Dameris series prediction. Who wins, how many games, and why?

We don’t know what Booker’s health is going to be the entire series, so I think it’s going to be a really long, intense series with a lot of close games. Give me the Mavs in seven.

Whoa! I would be skeptical, but listen, you were first on Jason Kidd’s coaching acumen and you were among the few who liked the Porzingis trade for more than what for the Mavericks’ cap sheet. You have been right about a lot of things. Maybe this is more well-founded optimism.

There’s no off position on the genius switch, Mike!


Mike Piellucci

Mike Piellucci

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Mike Piellucci is D Magazine's sports editor. He is a former staffer at The Athletic and VICE, and his freelance…