Or at least this is the distinction that can be drawn from their respective track records. The Clippers will enter this 2-7 series as heavy favorites, having finished the regular season with elite efficiency marks on both ends. The Mavs are shaky defensively, but they have a simple and devastating formula on the other end: spread the floor with shooters, so Doncic can cook.
Doncic is an MVP-caliber playmaker shouldering a James Harden-like load in his second season. Porzingis is a 7-foot-3 dude who shoots from Damian Lillard distance. Leonard and George are more seasoned, more versatile and surrounded by a more well-rounded supporting cast, but if Dallas' 3s are falling, it can beat anybody.
What follows is a digestible preview of the matchup in the form of three things to know. If you're looking for a full schedule of the first round, which will be updated throughout, you can find that here.
(2) Clippers vs. (7) Mavericks schedule
All times Eastern
- Game 1: Monday, Aug. 17, 9 p.m. | ESPN
- Game 2: Wednesday, Aug. 19, 9 p.m. | TNT
- Game 3: Friday, Aug. 21, 9 p.m. | TNT
- Game 4: Sunday, Aug. 23, 3:30 p.m. | ABC
- Game 5: Tuesday, Aug. 25, TBD | TBD
- Game 6: Thursday, Aug. 27, TBD | ESPN
- Game 7: Saturday, Aug. 29, TBD | TNT
1. The unstoppable force vs. the switchable stars
Doncic is a wizard of the highest order, and Porzingis averaged 30.5 points and 9.5 rebounds with a 61.7 percent true shooting percentage in six seeding games. Their skills are heightened by the Mavericks' immaculate spacing, and the league has collectively failed to figured out how to stop them -- this season, Dallas had the most efficient offense ever.
The Mavs will make Ivica Zubac and Montrezl Harrell stray from the paint. They will target Lou Williams in pick-and-rolls, and they might force Doc Rivers to make uncomfortable choices when it comes to lineups. But the Clippers will be a massive test, for Doncic and for the guys he's setting up.
Los Angeles' top-five defense is headlined by Leonard, George and all-time irritant Patrick Beverley. It is held together by a bunch of switchable role players. Dallas' worst offensive game this season came against the Clippers on Nov. 26 -- it scored 90 points per 100 possessions (and 78.2 per 100 in the halfcourt, which, gross!) despite Doncic going 14 for 16 from the free throw line. (The other matchups weren't nearly as bad, but the Clippers won all of them.)
Going into the series, Doncic knows that an all-world defender will be assigned to him on every possession. Nobody stops superstars of his caliber, but Los Angeles at least has the personnel to make him work for it. If the Clippers blitz and trap Doncic, will his teammates punish them consistently? The Mavs shoot more 3s than everybody except the Rockets, but they're only around league-average in accuracy.
2. Dallas' defense will be, uh, challenged
One fundamental problem the Clippers pose is that there aren't many people alive who can credibly defend either Leonard or George, and they employ both of them. Dorian Finney-Smith is the Mavs' best perimeter defender, and even though he's not quite as strong as either star, I bet Rick Carlisle wishes they could clone him.
This means Tim Hardaway Jr. will likely match up with George. If this goes poorly, Carlisle could put Maxi Kleber in the starting lineup, but it's not clear if he's enough of an upgrade defensively to justify the sacrifice in spacing. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is an emergency option -- the Mavs threw him at Carmelo Anthony last week -- but Los Angeles would give him the Tony Allen treatment.
Beyond the individual matchups, though, Dallas just isn't all that stingy. It ranked 18th overall on defense, per Cleaning The Glass, and it gave up 121.1 points per 100 possessions in the seeding games. This doesn't bode well against the second-best offense in the NBA, and if Porzingis is dropping on the pick-and-roll, it is too easy for Leonard and George:
3. Harrell is back and the Clippers have a rotation to sort out
Harrell hasn't played in a competitive basketball game since March, as he left the bubble because of a family emergency before scrimmage games had even started. He is expected to have cleared quarantine and be available to play on Monday, but Los Angeles will presumably not play him heavy minutes right away.
This is the likely Sixth Man of the Year, a player who averaged 24.1 points and 9.2 rebounds per 36 minutes this season, one of the best pick-and-roll finishers in the league and a capable playmaker in his own right. I wonder if Rivers might tether his minutes to Williams' at first, since it's impossible to imagine them having trouble getting back in the swing of things.
As the series progresses, it's worth paying attention to how Rivers adjusts his rotation. Who's on the court in crunch time? How many minutes are available for JaMychal Green? Does Reggie Jackson stay in the picture? What about Landry Shamet? The Clippers are lucky to have plenty of options, and, typically, title teams need everybody to contribute at one point or another.