Preview capsule for the Golden State-Dallas Western Conference finals series that starts Wednesday:
No. 3 GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS (53-29, 8-3) vs. No. 4 DALLAS MAVERICKS (52-30, 8-5)
Season series: Mavericks, 3-1
Schedule: Wednesday and Friday at Golden State, Sunday and May 24 at Dallas, May 26 at Golden State if necessary, May 28 at Dallas if necessary, May 30 at Golden State if necessary.
Storyline: Back in the Western Conference finals for the sixth time in eight years, the Golden State Warriors face an unexpected opponent. Luka Doncic and the Mavericks ousted Phoenix, which had the NBA's best record, with a Game 7 rout in the second round. The Mavericks haven't made it this far since winning their lone NBA title in 2011. The conference finals were once just a stopping point for the Warriors, who played in five straight NBA Finals from 2015-19. They missed the playoffs the last two seasons when some serious injuries set in, but Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are all healthy now and the Warriors might just be the championship favorites again.
Key matchup: Curry, Thompson and Jordan Poole vs. Doncic, Jalen Brunson and Spencer Dinwiddie. This is a small-ball series — there's plenty of those around the league these days — and will likely be decided by which three-guard lineup performs better. Doncic is one of the best postseason scorers in NBA history and the Mavs' guards blew away the Suns' All-Star backcourt of Chris Paul and Devin Booker on Sunday, with Doncic and Dinwiddie becoming the first teammates since Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant in 2002 to score 30 points in a Game 7. While Dallas will use plenty of pick-and-rolls to set up its guards for opportunities to drive to the basket, the Warriors still rely heavily on their formula of moving the ball around to get Curry and Thompson open looks behind the 3-point line.
Injury watch: The Warriors aren't ruling out a possible return of Gary Payton II sometime in this series after he broke his left elbow early in the West semifinals in Memphis. They are also hopeful Otto Porter Jr. can play in Game 1 after he missed the last two games with soreness in his right foot.
Numbers of note: It's just the second playoff meeting between the teams. The first was a historic victory for the Warriors, who became the first No. 8 seed to beat the No. 1 in a seven-game series when they stunned the 67-win Mavericks in 2007. ... Doncic is averaging 31.5 points, just behind Giannis Antetokoumpo (31.7) for most in these playoffs. Golden State already had to face the player who is third, two-time MVP Nikola Jokic (31.0) of Denver. ... The Warriors are 20-2 in Game 1s since 2015 and have won the last 12 that were played at home. ... Golden State has won 17 straight series against Western Conference teams, one shy of the record against a conference or division opponent, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The Boston Celtics won 18 straight between 1959-67. ... Dallas held Curry to 10-for-34 shooting (29.4%) from 3-point range during the four meetings in the regular season. Thompson appeared in only two of them and Green one. Doncic averaged 31.5 points, playing all four.
Prediction: Doncic's individual brilliance gives Dallas a chance in any playoff series, and the adjustments Jason Kidd made against Phoenix turned around that series after the Suns took a 2-0 lead. But the Warriors' core has done this too many times to fold the way the Suns did at the end. Golden State will once again be the best in the West. Warriors in 7.
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