2022 NBA Conference Finals Preview
Western Conference Finals:
Golden State Warriors (3) vs. Dallas Mavericks (4)
The Golden State Warriors are now the prohibited favorites to represent the West in the NBA Finals, but are they severely overrated?
After a fairly easy first round matchup with Denver Nuggets, the Warriors had their hands full with the Memphis Grizzlies until Ja Morant went down and out with a season-ending injury. In fact, despite Ja’s absence, the series managed to go to 6 games and in game 5, Memphis led by 55 points at one point in the game.
Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, and head coach Steve Kerr have referenced a “championship DNA” that has aided the fickle, yet experienced Warriors team, especially in close-out situations. However, Golden State will be in luck as the Mavericks’ offensive scheme will be no different than that of the Denver Nuggets and Memphis Grizzlies, whose offenses were centered around their respective star players. It is no secret, Dallas’ offense revolves around Luka “Magic” Doncic.
Moreover, Stephen Curry shot a career-low 38% from 3-point range in the regular season and his struggles have carried on to the postseason. Aside from Game 6 of the Memphis series, both Curry and his fellow Splash Bro, Klay Thompson, have been unidentifiable on offense and continue to be borderline liabilities on defense. As a team, despite being ranked the #2 defensive team in the NBA during the regular season, Golden State has struggled defensively throughout the playoffs. To make matters worse, Steve Kerr has fallen in love with his self-proclaimed “death line-up,” where 6’6” Draymond Green plays Center. Although I picked Golden State to win the West, Warriors fans should be concerned if Curry and Thompson do not show-up and show-out in this series.
In summary, the Golden State Warriors, led by Stephen Curry, have become a team full of nauseating frontrunners who were fortunate enough to be dealt an easy path to the Western Conference Finals.
For Jason Kidd and the Mavericks, a team and coach I have high respect for, the key to winning will be simply out shooting Golden State and effectively contesting the Warriors’ three-point attempts. Interestingly enough, the Mavericks do not have a dominant big man and Dallas head coach Jason Kidd often goes with a “death line-up” of his own. Fortunately for the Warriors, who had to deal with Nikola Jokic in the first series and then Steven Adams in the second, their “death line-up” will see the floor more often this series but if they do not sink their contested threes, it could be counterintuitive and potentially “deadly” for all of the wrong reasons.
Kidd, who has done an incredible job instilling a defensive-oriented mindset into the Mavericks’ locker room, loves to utilize his 3-and-D players such as Reggie Bullock and Dorian Finney-Smith when he decides to “go small.” The Mavericks’ “death line-up” includes Luka Doncic, Jalen Brunson, Spencer Dinwiddie, Reggie Bullock, and Dorian Finney-Smith. Dallas also has sharpshooting big men in Maxi Kleber and Davis Bertans who come off the bench and are capable of changing a game from behind the arc.
Furthermore, coming off a stunning upset against the #1 seeded Phoenix Suns in the conference semifinals, Luka Doncic looks to silence any remaining doubters as he takes on the 2x MVP in Stephen Curry. In most eyes, Doncic has earned the title of “superstar” and now the young Slovenian is just one step away from the NBA Finals where he could win the ultimate title of an NBA championship. For Dallas to upset Golden State, Doncic will need Spencer Dinwiddie to come along for the ride and average 20 points in the series on top of the occasional 15 or 20-point game from Jalen Brunson.
Finally, Dallas has proven to be nearly unbeatable at home so if Golden State does not take care of business in games 1 and 2, expect this series to go the distance. Jason Kidd has clearly made an impact on the Dallas locker room and completely changed the culture and defensive mindset from top to bottom on their roster, so to say the Mavericks stand no chance would be foolish.
Eastern Conference Finals:
Miami Heat (1) vs. Boston Celtics (2)
From the days of the Big 3, whether it be Lebron, D-Wade, and Chris Bosh for Miami or Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce for Boston, the history between these two rivals continues Tuesday night but with some new faces.
For the Celtics, head coach Ime Udoka has lit a fire under his players that Brad Stevens could not during his time in Boston. Jayson Tatum has finally taken that “next step” in becoming a near superstar, Marcus Smart just won Defensive Player of the Year, and role players like Grant Williams and Payton Pritchard have come up huge when the team has needed them most.
While other teams avoided landing the #2 seed in the East in fear of facing the Brooklyn Nets in the first round, Boston welcomed it. Just as the Memphis Grizzlies claim they “run up the chimney,” Boston did not have to say anything to show that they fear no one. The Celtics feel they can match-up with any team in the NBA and that they are better on both ends of the floor.
As seen in the first round defending Kevin Durant and the second round defending Giannis Antetokounmpo, Boston rotates between Jaylen Brown, Jason Tatum, Grant Williams, Robert Williams III, and Marcus Smart in order to wear down the opposing team’s best player. Fortunately for Boston, they will not have to clog the lane as they did against the Bucks as Miami typically spreads the ball around between Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Victor Oladipo, and Tyler Herro.
Boston was forced to leave shooters wide open in the Milwaukee series in order to prevent Giannis from the rim, but now, they do not have to focus so much on one player when matching up with Miami. Jimmy Butler is capable of taking over a game and dropping 40 points, but he is not as dominant as Giannis or Durant that Boston would need to strategize a scheme to stop solely him.
Ultimately, the Celtics will continue to have success on the defensive side of the ball, so if Jason Tatum and Jaylon Brown can consistently show up with the occasional showing of Marcus Smart on the offensive side of the ball, they will be just fine.
For the Heat, arguably the deepest team in basketball, they match-up fairly well against Boston. Simply going player by player, both teams have similar types of players at each position. For example, Kyler Lowry vs. Marcus Smart, Jimmy Butler vs. Jason Tatum, and Jaylon Brown vs. Victor Oladipo, although Oladipo comes off the bench.
The Heat also have Max Strus, a deadly 3-point shooter, Tyler Herro, who won 6th Man of the Year, P.J. Tucker, who will primarily defend Jason Tatum, and Duncan Robinson, who can be a deadly 3-point shooter if head coach Eric Spoelstra actually played him.
The one concern for Miami is Kyle Lowry’s health and eligibility. Lowry has been dealing with a hamstring injury and has missed six of Miami’s last eight games. Miami acquired Lowry in the offseason to be the head of their snake and co-leader with Jimmy Butler. Lowry brings a pit-bull-like mentality and play style to the court, as he scraps on defense and has the capability of knocking down big shots, although he has done so as of late. Lowry looks significantly heavier than usual and when he does finally make a return to the floor, he will likely have a minutes restriction.
With Butler’s veteran leadership, the star potential of Bam Adebayo, and the nuclear firepower of both Tyler Herro and Victor Oladipo off the bench, Miami’s depth and experience could give them the edge in this series.