For the Utah Jazz, this post season holds significant weight. They either accomplish all of their failed promises from last year, or crumble towards the end of an era. Luckily for them, according to a report from Shams Charania, Dallas Mavericks superstar Luka Dončić will likely miss game 1 of the series:
From a general basketball perspective, this sucks. Nobody wants to see the best player in a series sit out and not perform to the best of their ability. A series with a healthy Dončić would be incredible to watch and I hope that he’s able to recover in time to make it to game 2. Nonetheless, this does change the scope of the series. Obviously, this should make things easier for Utah. Given their well documented struggles with defending perimeter ballhanders, a Dončić-less Mavericks team will be easier to defend. However, this does make Dallas harder to game-plan for. With him out, you can expect Dallas to keep the lion’s share of position in the hands of either Jalen Brunson or Spencer Dinwiddie. Here’s some quick info about them:
This season, Brunson has taken a solid step forward. He’s averaged 16.3 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 4.8 assists a game. And in the three matchup’s against Utah this season, his ticked up to 19.0 points per game.
Something I expect Dallas to do is post-up Brunson more. Look at this, here, where he uses his larger frame to back down his man and make a little turn around jump shot:
Or here, where he simply enters the post off the dribble and hits a turnaround jumper:
This is one of Brunson’s favorite moves, especially when he has a weight advantage over his defender. I suspect Jason Kidd will want him to take more of these shots.
As for Dinwiddie, he’s had a bit of a resurgence since being traded to Dallas. In the 28 games he's played with them, he's averaged 15.8 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 3.9 assists on over 40% three point shooting. And from an eye test, he simply looks way more alive than he ever was in Washington. He’s playing better defense and seems to be having more fun on the court.
He only played one game against Utah this season in a Mavericks jersey, but found ample success blowing by Utah defenders for layups. Take a look at this blown coverage by Utah and a nifty finish by Dinwiddie:
This exact play is what I’m worried will happen repeatedly throughout this series against Dallas. In this same game, Dinwiddie had three other blow-by layups just like this. Even though he's lost a bit of his step after the ACL injury, Dinwiddie still has decent speed and can definitely get by slower defenders like Royce O’Neale. It’s something the Jazz should be prepared for.
Finally, a wild card for Dallas will be Dorian Finney-Smith. His ability to knock down shots from deep will make a huge impact on the series, especially with Dončić out. On the season, he’s shooting about 40% from three on a healthy 5.4 attempts per game. This, however, doesn’t paint a full picture of his shooting ability. Finney-Smith is a significantly better shooter from the corners than from above the break. As a matter of fact, he’s shooting over 10% better from the corners (45.6% vs. 35.3%) on a relatively similar number of attempts. Since Dončić’s playmaking is a large reason why Finney-Smith gets open shots, I suspect that he won’t find as many quality looks without him. With that said, Dončić or not, the Jazz are going to need to force him out of the corners to nullify his effectiveness on the offensive end.
In the end, I think the key to Utah winning this series falls on if they can repeatedly play with hustle, effort, and energy. Regardless of if Dončić plays, Utah has enough skill and talent to get by this Dallas team. It just depends on if they can keep it together, something they’ve had a hard time doing all season.