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NBA Playoffs: Western Conference Finals Preview

The defending NBA champions aren’t here, but two of the league’s biggest superstars will face off in the Western Conference Finals when the Minnesota Timberwolves take on the Dallas Mavericks.

The defending NBA champion Denver Nuggets are no longer in the running after the Minnesota Timberwolves caused a massive upset in Game 7. They’ll meet the Dallas Mavericks, who are living up to their pre-playoff tag as giant killers in the West.

It’s been a long time between conference finals drinks for the Timberwolves. This series marks only the second time in franchise history that they’ve made it this deep into an NBA season. Should they get the job done as $1.56 favourites, they’ll feature in the finals for the first time since 1989.

It looked as though it was all over at halftime of Game 7. Teams down by at least 15 points in Game 7s have gone 0-21 historically. Surely, the defending champions, at home, wouldn’t be the first to crumble. But a 62-30 run in which Rudy Gobert hit a turnaround jumper to beat the shot clock erased the deficit and took a lead of their own. Shots wouldn’t fall for the Nuggets who struggled late against a rampant Timberwolves defence. The 98-90 win is one of the greatest in franchise history and sets them up nicely for their series against the Mavericks.

It ended up rather fitting that the Mavericks, a team who made mid-season moves to get better now, finished on top of an Oklahoma City Thunder outfit that stood pat, seemingly scared at the prospect of paying anybody in the future. The Mavericks have an all-time great in Luka Doncic and are making sure to get the most out of him at all times. He picked up three consecutive triple-doubles to close out the series against the Thunder. Kyrie Irving has proved pivotal to the Mavericks. One of those mid-season additions, P.J. Washington, knocked down big buckets late before hitting the game-winning free throws in Game 6, securing the 4-2 series win.

The Mavericks might not have the depth and cohesion of the Timberwolves, but they will have the best player in the league that remains in contention. That’s enough to consider them as $2.30 underdogs to advance to the NBA Finals.

Key Matchup: Luka v Ant

There is no debating this one.

From an individual, one-on-one, game-on-the-line perspective, the series is all about Luka Doncic and Anthony Edwards.

Would it surprise anybody to see one of these two superstars knocking down a winner in Game 7?

An extra day or two to rest has come at the right time for Doncic. He’s nursing an injury and it shows in his scoring numbers. He averaged only 24.7 points per game against the Thunder after putting up an NBA-high 33.9 points throughout the regular season. However, as we saw late in Game 6 against the Thunder, he finds different ways to have an impact. As the Thunder applied pressure up the floor, he found teammates for good looks. Washington, in particular.

While Doncic may not have scored at will against the Thunder in the last series, he found plenty of success against the Timberwolves throughout the regular season.

Meanwhile, Anthony Edwards struggled through the early stages of Game 7. He shot just 1-7 for four points in the first half. His 5-17 for 12 points in the second half isn’t efficient enough either, but his energy and drive were contagious. The 22-year-old kept coming at the Nuggets and found success regularly enough to chip away at the deficit.

It’s in defence that he made his mark, though.

Doncic is playing with his best-ever supporting cast. Kyrie Irving is proving to be a willing number two but can take over a game if his number is called. But with or without the ball, Doncic is the most important element of the Mavericks’ offence. Similarly, the Nuggets adopted an ‘anybody but Ant’ approach to their defence towards the end of the series. After dropping 44 points in Game 3, having hit the mark twice against the Suns in the prior series, Edwards failed to crack 30 points in the following three games. Still, he facilitated the offence and contributed without scoring.

We’re hoping for a Doncic v Edwards shootout, but their influence on the defence when they aren’t scoring might end up being the bigger factor.

One Big Question: Will The Timberwolves Defence Be Too Good?

It’s all been offensive firepower up to this point. However, the Timberwolves played with the best defence in the NBA throughout the regular season allowing only 109.0 points per 100 possessions. The Mavericks, on the other hand, allowed 115.4 points per 100 possessions for 18th in the league.

As the game slows down in the post-season, defence becomes more important—especially individual defence. It’s there that the Timberwolves appear to have an advantage. Like they were against Denver, Minny is built to make things particularly difficult for Dallas.

The Timberwolves have the wing players to put on Irving and Doncic. They can guard up high and put pressure on the rest of the roster to make their shots. And even still, the Timberwolves defence is a well-oiled machine that doesn’t take a possession off.

The Mavericks thrive in isolation. As a team, they finished seventh in isolation frequency for an NBA-high of 1.05 points per possession. Unsurprisingly, Doncic (5th) and Irving (6th) are towards the top of the list individually. They will no doubt hunt for isolation opportunities in this series. However, the Timberwolves gave up only 0.86 points per possession in isolation situations during the regular season – the second-fewest points in the league.

Again, the Timberwolves are equipped to handle the Mavericks on the wings, and we’ve not even mentioned the Defensive Player of the Year, Rudy Gobert.

We know the Minnesota defence is coming. How will Dallas handle it?

NBA Playoffs: Western Conference Tips

Good luck feeling confident in anything in this series.

The Timberwolves are the deeper team, but the Mavericks counter that with Doncic. His experience, and that of Irving in big games, is a contributing factor, too. While the Timberwolves’ defence is the best in the NBA, Doncic is a different beast. He didn’t have too much trouble against them during the regular season. Despite an injury, a Thunder team that finished fourth in defensive rating couldn’t contain him well enough to win four games.

Each pro for either team is accompanied by a relatively strong counterargument. We can only be somewhat confident that the Western Conference Finals series will be long.

The series lasting six games is the shortest price in the total games market at $2.95. Dallas doing it 4-2 is the more likely at $5.30 to Minnesota’s $6. It’s difficult to see the Mavericks failing to cover the +1.5 series spread line at $1.64, so with that in mind, let’s give the people what they want and have this go to Game 7.



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