The regular season is over, and as such, the Utah Jazz turn their eyes towards the postseason where they play visitor as the #5 seed to the #4 seed Dallas Mavericks. Game 1 tips off in Texas at 11:00 am MST this Saturday the 16th.
As the NBA played it’s final games last night, news broke of Mavs’ star Luka Doncic injury that required him to leave, and ultimately not finish, the game.
Luka Doncic will get an MRI on his strained left calf this afternoon, sources said. Mavs will know more about the severity of the injury at that point.— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) April 11, 2022
This is big news and a major blow to the surging Dallas Mavericks.
In his 4th season in the NBA, Luka has cemented himself and as top 10 player in the league. While the season has had its ups and downs personally and for the team, Luka finish the year averaging 28.4 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 8.0 assists on +0.5% adjusted true shooting.
Meanwhile the team has ascended to new heights post trade deadline. Following the move that brought Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans to Dallas in exchange for Kristaps Porzingis, Dallas is 19-7 with a +4.5 point differential. They’re playing their best ball at the right time.
Unfortunately, as Jazz fans experienced last season, a poorly-timed injury can cast a big shadow on an otherwise promising postseason.
As it turns out, Luka’s injury may have been avoided were it not for a fluke decision by the league office as detailed by CBS Sports and commented on below.
Jazz fans may remember Rudy Gobert suffering a calf strain earlier this season. It ultimately rendered him sidelined for 9 games (3 weeks). According to SportsMD.com, calf strains fall into 3 grades, the least severe require 1-2 weeks for recovery.
Yesterday evening, ESPN’s Tim MacMahon reported on the results of Luka’s MRI and confirmed there to be no timetable on a return. A member of Fantasy Doctors filmed a video detailing the injury and what it means for Luka’s available that you can watch here.
Luka Doncic’s MRI today confirmed a calf strain, as expected, per source. Mavs have not set a timetable for his return. https://t.co/iqYXmbJK0I— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) April 11, 2022
The 7 day gap between the end of the regular season and the start of the postseason affords the Mavericks a much needed window to have any hope of having Luka for a portion of the series.
At this point, the big question is how Luka’s injury will affect the series, specifically as it concerns Utah?
Mavericks without Luka
Luka has missed 17 games this season so naturally the temptation is to evaluate the team’s performance in such matchups. But it’s not that simple.
The Dallas Mavericks really started putting things together when they shipped off Kristaps Porzingis to the Washington Wizards and brought in ball-handling in Spencer Dinwiddie and shooting in Davis Bertans. Most of those 17 missed games took place prior to the trade.
What we can do is try to evaluate how the team plays differently, as opposed to the results.
For example, since the trade, Luka has been on the court for 1600+ possessions, in which they secured a 0.52 shot quality. In the 700+ possessions without him, Dallas beat that mark with a 0.53 shot quality, per PBPstats.com.
Dallas is still getting great shots without Doncic’s passing. They do so with more shots at the rim and in the midrange. This should play into Utah’s defensive strategy where Gobert can affect more shots.
The Jazz are the best team in the league at not fouling, per CleaningTheGlass.com. In possessions without Luka, Dallas is getting 4 fewer FTAs per 100 possessions since the trade. This could accentuate another advantage for Utah.
However, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Without Luka, the Mavericks get after it with defensive activity. They’re forcing approximately 30% more turnovers (20% more live ball) with Luka sitting since the trade. Jazz are 22nd in turnovers per 100 possessions, a clear weakness of theirs.
While not exhaustive, there’s plenty to suggest Jazz can play to their strengths and narrow their focus on some deficiencies.
Mavericks Style of Play
The Dallas Mavericks are an interesting group. They have a good mix of size, athleticism, enough shooting and ball handling surrounding Luka.
Dallas is last in the league in frequency of plays in transition but 10th in efficiency. Utah is 9th in keeping people out of transition but 22nd in defending the shot. Needless to say, an ideal way for the Jazz to keep a Luka-less team from ever reaching their ceiling is to keep them from sniffing the open floor.
Dallas is in isolation (1-on-1) the fifth most of any team this year and second in efficiency. It’s easy to see why, Luka is a wizard, coming in the 91%tile. But it’s not just Luka. Spencer Dinwiddie is also in the 94%tile, on half as many possessions as his teammate. Utah is 5th worst in the league defending the shot in isolation.
Unfortunately, Utah is 5th worst in the league defending the shot in isolation. Without Luka, Dallas is likely to shy away from as much isolation but they’ll still see a heavy dose of 1-on-1. And there’s no great, consistent isolation defender option on the roster.
Utah’s greatest skill is in the PnR on both ends of the floor. Dallas, however, defends it well, even if Luka is involved. On defense, however, Jalen Brown is their biggest ball-handling weapon and would be featured to death without Luka.
Ultimately, as many intricacies as there are with and without Luka, at the end of the day should the Mavericks not have Doncic on the floor, the Jazz would sport the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd best players in the series in Mitchell, Gobert, and Conley.
While Dallas’ supporting cast sports amazing cohesion, impressive effort, and well-rounded skillsets, the talent gap would be sizeable.
But therein lies one of the issues the Jazz have dealt with this season. Despite being more talented and luckier on a given night than their opponent, they’re prone to losing focus and energy.
Now’s the time to show the world that the Jazz are fit for a title run. With or without Luka, they have to perform at their best and leave no doubt in the series outcome.
Here’s to see if they can do it and ultimately enjoying yet another Utah Jazz Playoffs!