The third-seeded Golden State Warriors and fourth-seeded Dallas Mavericks meet in the Western Conference finals. They last met in the first round of the 2007 playoffs, when the “We Believe” Warriors upset the 67-win Mavericks in six games.
[Eastern Conference finals preview: (1) Miami Heat vs. (2) Boston Celtics]
How they got here
Golden State Warriors (53-29)
The Warriors staked themselves to an 18-2 record through November, looking like the team that won a title in 2015 and 73 regular-season games the following year, and they were only supposed to get stronger. Klay Thompson was due back in January. Lottery picks James Wiseman, Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody were still under development. The worst of two seasons that resulted in their selections was behind them.
Except, as soon as Thompson returned, Draymond Green suffered a back injury, and once he returned, Stephen Curry sprained his left foot. The three staples of Golden State’s dynasty played 22 meaningful possessions together during the regular season. Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole took advantage of their absences, as Wiggins’ All-Star campaign and Poole’s breakout party were among the NBA’s biggest surprises of the season, but the Warriors marched into the playoffs with an 11-12 post-All-Star record.
Curry returned for their first-round series against the Denver Nuggets, and everyone on Golden State but the recent lottery picks coalesced against an inferior opponent. The Warriors countered two-time reigning MVP Nikola Jokic and his replacement-level roster with the small-ball lineup of Curry, Thompson, Green, Wiggins and Poole, which outscored the Nuggets by 23 points in 39 minutes over their five-game series.
That unit was less successful against the tougher and more versatile Memphis Grizzlies in the second round, but a series-ending injury to Ja Morant removed any serious threat to Golden State’s chances of returning to the conference finals for the first time since 2019. Questions remain about the Warriors’ ability to defend a more worthy challenger, but they are BetMGM’s title favorites entering the conference finals.
Dallas Mavericks (52-30)
The Mavericks operated in reverse from the Warriors during the regular season. They follow Luka Doncic’s lead, and the wunderkind reported to training camp out of shape. Doncic missed the bulk of December with an ankle injury and a COVID-19 diagnosis, so Dallas turned the calendar to 2022 with a 17-18 record.
Doncic performed like an MVP candidate upon his return, averaging a 30-10-9 on 46/37/76 shooting splits over the final four months of the season. The Mavericks lost just 11 regular-season games in the new year.
Dallas embraced a defensive identity around Doncic under first-year coach Jason Kidd, who laid Dorian Finney-Smith, Reggie Bullock and Maxi Kleber as the foundation of his top-10 unit. A deadline trade of Kristaps Porzingis for Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans also leaned into secondary playmaking and shooting around their heliocentric superstar. Dinwiddie joined Jalen Brunson as facilitators who can spell Doncic and create in the space he provides. And Bertans makes Dallas seven deep with 3-point threats.
The Mavericks survived against the Utah Jazz without Doncic (left calf strain) for the first three games of their opening-round series, because Brunson elevated his game and they relentlessly attacked the cracks in the corners of a defense anchored by Rudy Gobert. The arsenal of 3-and-D weapons around Doncic did the same to the 64-win Phoenix Suns after losing the first two games of the conference semifinals. Their Game 7 beatdown of the No. 1 seed was proof their recipe could cook the most well-seasoned of teams.
Head to head
The Mavericks won their regular-season series with the Warriors, 3-1.
Golden State was missing Green or Thompson for three of their meetings and both for the fourth.
On the other hand, Porzingis finished -17 in 25 minutes during the Mavericks’ lone loss to the Warriors — maybe the final nail in the coffin that was his Dallas tenure. Lineups featuring Kleber or Dwight Powell at center fared far better against Golden State, which bodes well for their chances in this series. So, too, does the production of Doncic, who averaged a 37-10-6 per 40 minutes on 48/38/88 splits against the Warriors.
Conversely, Curry averaged a 22-8-9 per 40 minutes on 39/29/67 splits against Dallas’ bigger defenders. Few players, if anyone, have guarded Curry as well as Bullock and Finney-Smith, who combined to hold him to 12 points on 15 shots and one assist against four turnovers over 149 possessions this season.
Golden State Warriors
Warriors coach Steve Kerr has almost exclusively played Curry, Poole, Thompson, Wiggins and Green at the end of close games. That group is now +26 in 70 playoff minutes together, doing the bulk of that damage against the Nuggets. The elbow injury to Gary Payton II restricts their ability to field defense-heavy lineups, but Otto Porter Jr. is an option if they need more length to disrupt Doncic and his running mates.
The Mavericks closed tight games against the Suns with Doncic, Brunson, Bullock, Finney-Smith and Kleber. Expect them to do the same against the Warriors, barring trouble that necessitates Dinwiddie or Powell. Kidd’s most trusted small-ball unit outscored the Suns by 27 over 43 minutes in their last five games against the Suns — a stunning +33.3 net rating that eliminated the previous championship favorites.
Matchup to watch
The Warriors trusted Wiggins to defend Doncic during the regular season, and it did not go well. Doncic scored 33 points on 22 shots over 92 possessions against Golden State’s most athletic wing defender.
Payton drew the second-most minutes for the Warriors against Doncic, and he is unlikely to ever see this series. Thompson would have taken the assignment in years past, but it would be a stunning development if he could hold up against Doncic in this post-injury stage of his career. Same goes for Andre Iguodala, whose neck injury has kept him from the floor for the past seven games. Porter and his 7-foot-1 wingspan is an option, but he missed Game 6 against the Grizzlies with a foot injury and is day-to-day entering this series. Doncic also scored 15 points on 6-of-6 shooting in 16 possessions against Porter this season.
That leaves Green, the former Defensive Player of the Year, who guarded Doncic for 80 seconds this year. It would be great theater, but pulling Green from his roaming role as a rim protector creates other issues.
That the Mavericks have options to hound Curry and the Warriors might not against Doncic is no small concession. Doncic has proven, with a combination of defenders, shooters and playmakers around him, he is already the rare sort of superstar who can take out an elite team as its sole focus. If Mikal Bridges has no hope against Doncic, asking Wiggins to do the same on the biggest stage of his career is a lot to ask.
May 18: Dallas at Golden State, 9 p.m. ET (TNT)
May 20: Dallas at Golden State, 9 p.m. ET (TNT)
May 22: Golden State at Dallas, 9 p.m. ET (TNT)
May 24: Golden State at Dallas, 9 p.m. ET (TNT)
May 26: Dallas at Golden State, 9 p.m. ET (TNT)*
May 28: Golden State at Dallas, 9 p.m. ET (TNT)*
May 30: Dallas at Golden State, 8 p.m. ET (TNT)*
Golden State Warriors (-250)
Dallas Mavericks (+200)
Mavericks in seven.
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Ben Rohrbach is a staff writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach
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