Walnut Creek, CA

Basketball is, after all, a team game

Clay Kallam

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Clay Kallam

Luka, Luka, Luka … that’s pretty much all we’re going to see in Western Conference Final previews, but in truth, Luka probably won’t decide the series.

(Pause for spit take …)

Luka’s going to get 40. Let’s just start with that, mull it over, and set it aside. Put 40 points on the board, and we’ll go from there.

Tempo: Dallas wants to play slow. The Mavs will get the ball into the front court and have someone – usually Luka – dribble around for a while and try to create one-on-one. This slows the game down, which is to Dallas’ advantage in numerous ways.

First, since Luka is the only reliable scorer, Dallas isn’t going to put up 120 on a regular basis. The Mavericks average just 108 points a game, 24th in the league, and they play at the slowest pace. Remember, we’re giving Luka 40, so the key for Dallas is to get enough points from other players to win – but those other players aren’t great scorers. If Dallas has to get 115 to win, it’s a lot harder for them than if the Mavs only have to get 105.

So the slower the pace, the better for Dallas.

And of course, the Warriors would like to play much faster, and with everyone more or less healthy, a game in which the winner gets 120 or more is a game the Warriors are more likely to win. If the winner only gets 105, then the scales tip to Dallas.

One thing to watch, then, is which team can impose its pace on the game. The team that controls the tempo will have a significant advantage.

Style: The Warriors want to flow like water, fly like the wind and play a beautiful game. The Mavericks want to get Luka the ball and have him bully his way wherever he wants to go, and then watch him score. And if it isn’t Luka, Jalen Brunson will dribble around for what seems like eternity while his teammates stand and watch, and then try to make something happen late in the shot clock.

Now it may seem that Dallas can play its way and Golden State can play its way regardless of what the other team is doing, but more often than you think, one team winds up dictating the style of play. If the Warriors play too much one-on-one, they will struggle; the more the Mavericks pass the ball, the worse off they are. Which leads to …

Defense: I’m a defensive guy, so I always look at matchups and options. For the Warriors, the matchups are bad and the options are limited.

First, Draymond Green or Andrew Wiggins can pick up Luka when he comes across halfcourt, but the Mavs will immediately attack with the most basic move in the game – the pick-and-roll. They will force Steph Curry or Jordan Poole to switch onto Luka, and he will then proceed to get his 40.

What the Warriors don’t want to do, though, is let Brunson or Spencer Dinwiddie get 50 between them, but it’s hard to help on Luka and contain the athletic Brunson or the sweet-shooting Dinwiddie. And Dorian Finney-Smith and Reggie Bullock are both good three-point shooters, which means it’s likely at least one will be hot on any given night.

So the plan may be, in one game at least, to just let Luka go into beast mode and see if he can score enough to beat the Warriors all by himself. The unfortunate aspect of this plan is that he just might.

On the flip side, though Dallas has issues. Though they are a very tall team and very good at defending the three, they have no rim protection to speak of (28th in the league in blocked shots), and if they overplay the shooters, the Warriors will get layup after layup from their patented backdoor cuts and off-the-ball movement.

Size does matter, though, and expect the Mavs to be physical and attack Curry and Poole with lots of contact. It worked with Chris Paul, but note that the Suns had fewer ballhandling options than the Warriors, so it will be harder for Dallas to stop the Warriors’ offense by stopping one player.

Don’t be surprised if the Warriors zone up the Mavs, and maybe even toss out a box-and-one now and again, just to keep Dallas on its heels. Still, in the end, Luka is unguardable. Of course, if the Warriors don’t turn the ball over, they’re pretty much unguardable too.

Bottom line: Traditionally, at this point, the writer sums up his discussion and makes his definitive decision as to who will win. But you know, I have no clue. Dallas could dominate; the Warriors could romp; it could come down to the last minute of game seven; the teams could trade blowouts.

I hope that helps.

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Clay Kallam is a lifelong East Bay resident who spent several decades in local journalism -- and still writes for Diablo Magazine (among others). Over the years, he has covered just about every aspect of life in the Bay Area, from rock-and-roll to the arts to political coverage to food to sports. On the food front, he does not claim to be a critic, but rather someone who enjoys a good meal, a well-made drink and a nice red wine. As for sports, he has written for national publications (including Sports Illustrated and Slam) and covers girls' basketball across the nation for MaxPreps. He is a high school coach and a serious fan of the local teams -- and savored every minute of the Giants' and Warriors' championships. He graduated from Acalanes, UC Santa Barbara (ancient history) and Cal (philosophy). He lives in Walnut Creek with his wife Maggi, who takes many of the food photos. He appreciates his readers and is always happy to talk about anything he's written. His food experiences can be found at #dishdining on Instagram, and emails can be sent to claykallam@gmail.com.

Walnut Creek, CA
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