NBA Odds, Game 1 Preview, Prediction for Mavericks vs. Clippers: Can Los Angeles Begin Playoff Redemption? (May 22)

NBA Odds, Game 1 Preview, Prediction for Mavericks vs. Clippers: Can Los Angeles Begin Playoff Redemption? (May 22) article feature image
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Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images. Pictured: Kawhi Leonard.

  • The first playoff game for the Western Conference tips off with the Clippers hosting the Mavericks in a 2020 playoff rematch.
  • Los Angeles has struggled to keep a healthy roster all season but are five-point favorites to dispatch Dallas and Luka Doncic in Game 1.
  • Brandon Anderson explains below how he's betting the improved Clippers to easily get by Dallas.

Mavericks vs. Clippers Odds

Mavericks Odds +5
Clippers Odds -5
Moneyline +180 / -225
Over/Under 218
Time Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET
TV ESPN
Odds as of Friday and via PointsBet

Well, well, well, here we are again.

The Clippers and Mavericks led off the first round of last year’s playoffs too. It was a strange but memorable series.

The Clips jumped out to a 10-0 lead in Game 1, the Mavs stormed back to take a double-digit second-quarter lead, but LA came back to finish the job late. Luka Doncic got hurt early in Game 2, but Dallas rallied without him, and his return pushed the Mavs over the top to tie the series at one. Doncic had a triple-double in Game 3 but struggled from the field as the Clippers took a big first-half lead and held on to go up 2-1.

Game 4 is the one you remember. With Kristaps Porzingis out injured and Doncic ailing down 2-1, many counted the Mavs out. That’s when Doncic dropped 43 points, 17 rebounds and 13 assists on LA, carrying Dallas all game and hitting that step-back 3-pointer in overtime for the win. It turned out to be a last hurrah. The Clippers shot 63% on 3s and hung 154 on Dallas, then closed the Mavs out comfortably in Game 6.

It was the best of an otherwise relatively forgettable first round — but not much has gone to plan for either team since. The Clippers blew that 3-1 series lead to Denver in the following round, fired Doc Rivers and replaced Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams with Serge Ibaka, Nic Batum and Rajon Rondo.

The Mavs traded shooting in for defense with Seth Curry out and Josh Richardson in, and they were left with something in the middle. The defense isn’t much better, the offense hasn’t matched last year’s peak, and Doncic didn’t live up to MVP billing, in part because Porzingis was injured and disappointing much of the year.

But all of that is history now.

The Mavs won the season series 2-1, but it’s hard to glean much from any of the games. Dallas won the first by 51 way back on December 27, leading 77-25 at the half as the Clippers shot an abysmal 4-of-33 on 3s. Both teams shot well in the second meeting, a Clippers win, but LA went ice cold in the finale and lost big again. Three-point shooting variance is unreliable and not predictive, so we may not have learned much there.

The Mavericks didn’t have enough in last year’s playoffs. Is this year’s team better equipped to beat the favored Clippers?

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Mavericks Are Good, Not Great

Dallas finished 42-30 but started out the season struggling at 8-13, then recovered for a 34-17 finish, a 55-win pace in a regular season. The Mavericks won 12 of their final 16 games.

The NBA has had a clear top tier of title contenders all season, consisting of eight teams: the Sixers, Nets, and Bucks in the East along with the Jazz, Suns, Clippers, Nuggets, and Lakers in the West. The Mavs never really broke into that tier but profile as the best of the rest. They rank eighth or ninth in most all-in-one metrics like Net Rating, SRS and Efficiency Differential. All year long they’ve just been … pretty good.

The Mavs offense hasn’t lived up to the high expectations the team set a year ago. Dallas is still bombing a ton of 3s, sixth most in the NBA, but the Mavs rank only 18th in 3-point percentage. They’re far more efficient inside the arc with the third-best 2-point percentage but attempt the fourth fewest 2s. Dallas has built a modern offense around Luka Doncic, but the Mavericks’ shooting has betrayed them this season, and there’s far too much on Luka’s shoulders.

Worse, the defense hasn’t improved anywhere near enough to offset the loss of Curry’s shooting. Dallas doesn’t force many turnovers and ranks below average on free throws and 3s allowed as well as defensive rebounding. And that’s when “average” is all 30 NBA teams. Now that we’re down to 16, the Mavs are one of the worst defenses left in the field, certainly among teams that are believed to be contenders.

Doncic has actually been pretty great. He’s averaging 27.7 points, 8.0 rebounds and 8.6 assists on 48/35/73 shooting. Doncic’s shooting is improving but still has plenty of room to grow, though he’s come a long way since that ice cold start. His free-throw rate dropped off this year as defenses adjusted, but he still was about as good as expected — he just didn’t get enough help.

Josh Richardson has been mostly a disaster. His shooting has disappeared, and he might be even more disappointing on defense. Kristaps Porzingis played only 43 games and rarely looked like a guy on a max contract outside of one brief stretch.

His body failed him in last year’s playoffs, and unless Porzingis looks more like the second star he’s meant to be, it’s tough to see Dallas having much of a chance against a team as good as the Clippers. Dorian Finney-Smith, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Jalen Brunson have been fine, but they’re role players. Porzingis and Richardson are not, and they haven’t been good enough.

BetMGM is offering a prop on the leading scorer in the series, and Doncic looks like a great bet in that one. He’s going to need to be superhuman for the Mavs to be even close — and he was last year in the playoffs. Luka averaged 31.0 PPG then and had three games with at least 38 points, and remember, he was playing on a sprained ankle in his first playoffs at age 21. Dallas needs all the points it can get from Doncic, and he’s a heavy favorite to lead this series in scoring. The line opened with Doncic favored at -115 at BetMGM, and he’s up to -135 now but still a good value and my favorite series bet.

As for the Mavericks themselves, they might be in trouble.

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But the Clippers May Be Great

That’s because the Clippers are really good.

Remember all those all-in-one metrics that paint Dallas as “the best of the rest” outside of the contenders? The Clippers rank second in the NBA in pretty much all of them — and they’ve done that despite missing 20 games from Kawhi Leonard, 18 from Paul George, 15 from Marcus Morris, 31 from Serge Ibaka and 35 from Patrick Beverley. That’s a half season of superstars missing between PG and Kawhi and another full high-end role player season, and the Clippers still rate as the second best team in the NBA.

And a huge chunk of that is just red-hot, completely-unsustainable-yet-somehow-they’ve-done-it-72-games shooting from all over the court. The Clippers have hit 41.1% of their 3s on the season, an absolutely absurd number. Outside of big men Serge Ibaka and Ivica Zubac, the entire top 11 on this team is shooting 39.7% or better from behind the arc. That’s an entire team of 40% shooters somehow. It’s insane.

The Clippers attempted only the 14th most 3s this season but made the sixth most. That’s the sort of combination you can pull off when everyone who touches the ball shoots 40%. LA also leads the league in free-throw percentage — though the Clippers rank fourth to last in free-throw rate. Outside of that blazing shooting, LA’s offensive metrics are mostly average. But just that shooting alone has kept the Clips near the top of the offensive metrics all season long.

It will be interesting to see what this defense can do as things step up in the playoffs. The Clippers have been really good defending 3s with all that length. This defense was designed specifically to guard great perimeter players — players like LeBron James, James Harden, and Luka Doncic. How will Luka fare with Kawhi, PG, Batum, Marcus Morris and others hounding him all game?

LA’s defense didn’t measure up in the playoffs last year, in part because Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell were so bad once the games hit this top level. Serge Ibaka and Nic Batum were brought in specifically because of their defensive versatility and ability to stay on the court as 16-game players, not 82-game guys like Lou and Trez, whose value drops in the playoffs.

The Clippers defense has not been elite, in part because they remain mostly average inside the arc without a ton of rim protection. But Ivica Zubac can hold his own, and a healthy Ibaka will help a lot there. If the Clippers want to make a deep playoff run, they need to see this defense improve from above average to great or better — and the pieces are there to do it.

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Mavericks-Clippers Pick

The Mavs can look really good when they’re on. If the shots fall, Dallas looks as good as anyone, and there’s probably going to be stretches or entire games whenthe Mavs are hitting shots, Doncic is doing his thing, and Dallas looks very good.

But the Clippers are just another level or two above. They’ve been better all season already, even while almost never really giving full effort or putting a full lineup out, and they’ve been waiting for this run. This is a team on a mission. LA wants 16 more wins, and I think they deliver a statement with a strong Game 1 victory to get things started right.

If Dallas plays its best, the Mavs can hang with the Clippers on a normal night. But if the Clips play their best, they hit a level that Dallas just isn’t at this season.

I like the Clippers to win the series with relative ease, probably in five or six games, but none of the futures odds look particularly enticing outside of that Doncic leading scorer bet. At the end of the day, Dallas is worse than last year while the Clippers are better, and LA won the series last time and should take care of business again.

I’ll take the Clippers to win and cover the 5-point spread. I’ll play to 6.5.

Pick: Clippers -5

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