Is it time to bid farewell to the NBA as we once knew it?
There will be a new champion, and it will come from a group of four teams that couldn’t even make it to Round 2 last season. Besides the Bucks being unable to repeat, we have said adios to Brooklyn, a team built with three stars; Phoenix, which tied its horse to aging Chris Paul but could get only so far; and Philadelphia, who appears to have hitched its wagon to a James Harden whose best days are in the rearview mirror and getting smaller by the game.
With the old guard and the old way of assembling teams skating on thin ice, say hello to the Dallas Mavericks and its single-star concept. Whether by design or just Mark Cuban’s inability to add another big gun to the roster, the Mavs have ridden Luka Doncic and a plethora of role players all the way to the Western Conference finals.
Dallas opens final four play Wednesday night against the Warriors, a (very) veteran team that represents the last holdout for the three-star concept. If the Mavs are able to overcome considerable odds (GS is -210, Dallas +180 in the series) and actually takes care of business, it could mean that other teams will take a long hard look before they accede to the wishes of superstars and try to load up on talent and let the rest take care of itself.
Against the heavily favored Suns in the Western semis, Doncic scoffed when Phoenix took a 2-0 series lead, then put the hammer down in an astonishing Game 7. Doncic scored Dallas’s first 8 points, the Mavs had a 57-27 lead at halftime, and then spent the third quarter conducting an autopsy on the beleaguered Suns. The lead was 46 at one point, as Suns stars Paul and Devin Booker had zero answers.
Dallas is hardly expecting Golden State to be as compliant as the Suns were. Steph Curry is Steph Curry, Klay Thompson is rounding into form after returning from injury, and Draymond Green is always ready to bust a vein when things go even a little bit wrong. The Warriors’ pass-and-cut offense allows the defense no rest, and even Doncic will have to work on the other end.
Doncic won’t have to do it alone, but any help he gets will come from an unlikely source – because the rest of the rotation is filled with unlikely sources. Jalen Brunson is as close to Robin as there is for Doncic’s Batman, but Brunson will have his hands full running through screens and chasing Curry or Thompson. Spencer Dinwiddie torched the Suns for 30 (9 more than Paul and Booker had, combined) but is in and out. Reggie Bullock and Dwight Powell scare no one.
The Warriors, who are 5-point favorites in Wednesday’s Game 1, will no doubt game plan to tire and slow down Doncic, who was admittedly in poor shape to start the season. In Round 1 Utah made only token efforts at defense, and the Suns simply ran out of gas and lacked a coherent defensive approach. GS coach Steve Kerr will no doubt come up with something, perhaps hounding the ball-dominant Donic the same way that Boston harassed Milwaukee do-everything Giannis Antetkounmpo. Giannas had nothing left by the second half of Game 7 after dealing with multiple defenders and double-teams for two weeks. OTOH, the Bucks couldn’t throw the ball in the ocean from 3, and that’s what Golden State does best.
Ask the oddsmakers, and they’ll simply count the number of stars on each team, and tell you that the Warriors will make another run at the title. They’re the betting favorite to win it all at +135, with Boston (+175) and Miami (+490) behind GS. Bringing up the rear are the Mavericks, at +565. More motivation for a team with one star aching to change the power structure and perhaps alter the way teams are built in the Association.