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Mavericks vs. Jazz Series Odds & Betting Preview: Value Depends on Luka Doncic Injury

Mavericks vs. Jazz Series Odds & Betting Preview: Value Depends on Luka Doncic Injury article feature image
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Via Tim Heitman/Getty Images. Pictured: Luka Doncic (77) and Mike Conley (11).

A pall hangs over what should be a thrilling series between Dallas and Utah in the form of Luka Doncic’s calf injury. The latest reports suggest that Doncic could miss not just the first game but both of the first two games. That’s huge in potentially swinging the series.

If Doncic comes back, everything changes, obviously. This is going to be one of the most difficult series to bet before we get into it, which is why we’ll talk about how the best path is patience and waiting for the right moment to strike.

Let’s break down Jazz-Mavericks.

The Luka Doncic Health Factor

Let’s just get this right off the top. If you don’t think Doncic plays in this series, you should bet the Jazz. Unfortunately, series markets beyond outright to win at -300 aren’t available as of this writing, and the EV is low there with how little we know.

If you think Doncic plays Game 1 and on, you should definitely be betting the Mavericks.

There’s also no real reason for you to think either way. We don’t know. The Mavericks are notoriously tight with information. We won’t know Doncic’s status until Friday at the earliest. If he’s ruled out the day before, that means he’s further away.

It’s likely Doncic returns at some point during this series, though, and the entire dynamic flips then. The problem becomes if the Jazz go up 2-0 with home-court advantage. That may be too steep a hill to climb.

That said, I’m waiting until at least after Game 1 and then likely betting Dallas. I’m betting light in case Doncic just doesn’t play at all, but there are two outcomes:

  1. Dallas wins without Doncic, which is a huge tilt and will immediately shift odds back towards Dallas but not to the point where it’s not a good number and possibly still plus money.
  2. Dallas loses, and the odds get even better on Dallas, and at that point, there’s even better value.

Something to consider: the Mavs won the first two games in Los Angeles last year and then lost the next two at home. Dallas’ home court isn’t more important than Doncic’s impact on the matchup.

So let’s try and break this down, as difficult as it may be.

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Jazz Matchup Advantage: Offensive Rebounding

The Mavericks’ decision to jettison Kristaps Porzingis to Washington ushered a move to go toward more five-out. Ultimately, that’s an advantage for Dallas because Utah hates it when teams go small against them, for a variety of reasons we’ll get into.

But there’s a cost to it, and it comes on the offensive glass. The Jazz are fourth in second-chance points per 100 possessions, and Dallas gives up the 10th-most. Dwight Powell and Maxi Kleber are just not going to be able to keep Rudy Gobert and Hassan Whiteside off the glass.

In a series that projects as very close if Doncic plays, those little edges like offensive rebounding may prove to be the difference.

Mavericks Matchup Advantage: Five-Out

This is a matchup advantage for any team that has the lineup option vs. Utah. The Jazz are most comfortable playing drop coverage. That’s where Rudy Gobert is honestly the best defender in pick and roll coverage in NBA history.

(NOTE: Not the best defender in NBA history, just in drop scheme.)

If you can force Gobert to have to switch, there’s an advantage, but it’s not the same one it was a few years ago.

For starters, here’s what happens when you drop vs. Doncic:

You just can’t give him that much room.

When the defender gets over the screen to contest, and Gobert drops, it opens up opportunities for pick-and-pop:

Notably, Maxi Kleber is shooting 18% from 3 since All-Star Break. You have to be able to punish it.

When Gobert switches, the common thought was that you would want to attack him because of his lack of foot speed. Gobert has gotten better and better at this coverage.

Against Doncic in one game, in particular, he really shut Doncic down:

(Luka felt he was fouled.)

Doncic tends to target the toughest or most “big name” matchup on the floor on switches. He’s gone after Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, and LeBron James, along with Gobert.

The better approach, though, is to instead play five-out and space Gobert out to the 3-point line. That way he has to stay attached to respect the 3 and can’t commit to protecting the rim to help. If Doncic is prideful and keeps attacking Gobert, that could cost them. He can get to his spots, but it’s a lesser EV play given that the Jazz perimeter defense elsewhere is so poor.

Jalen Brunson and Spencer Dinwiddie have had less success vs. Gobert as the screen defender. The Mavs shoot 44% as a team in pick and roll when Dinwiddie was the ball-handler against Gobert as the screen defender.

But when you go back and watch, these were some of the misses, and these are all makable looks:

You have to punish the Jazz off the drop to get them out of that coverage. If you do, you can neutralize Gobert’s impact by spacing him out instead of attacking him in space.

Jazz Matchup Disadvantage: Offense vs. Small Ball

The bigger problem when teams go small (and the Mavs are basically always small right now) for Utah is on the other end. You’re giving up more spacing and more threes on one end, and the Jazz can’t punish the opponent on the other.

The Jazz have the No. 1 half-court offense in the NBA. Against drop coverage, they score 1.05 points per possession, and against at the level, they score 1.06.

Against switching defenses, the Jazz score 0.99 points per possession. The drop off is steep. The issue as always is that the Jazz do not trust Rudy Gobert to punish those switches. Gobert is 12-of-21 on post-ups this season. That’s great efficiency, but it’s also telling that he only has 21 post-ups.

Out of 396 times where defenses have switched vs. a Gobert screen, the play has resulted in a Gobert shot only 15 times.

It’s not that Gobert gets “played off the floor” defensively; it’s that the Jazz perimeter defenders can’t hold their own, so the opponent puts up a big offensive number, and the normally insane Jazz offense can’t keep pace because the switch contains perimeter 3s, and Gobert can’t punish the small.

If the Mavericks can force the Jazz out of their comfort zone, that’s the most direct path to a win.

Mavericks Matchup Disadvantage: At-Rim Protection vs. Drives

The Jazz are third in the NBA in drives that result in a shot near the rim per 100 possessions and fifth in scoring efficiency on those plays.

The one and really only weakness for Dallas defensively outside of offensive rebounds (see above) is their at-rim defense. Dallas gives up the fifth-most drives to the rim per 100 possessions and the ninth-best points per chance in such situations.

They play higher at the level of the screen and in ISO to contain, but if you do manage to get past the first line of defense, they don’t have backline rim protection. It’s just not how the roster is built.

Utah has to keep the pressure on to force the Mavs to back off a bit. Once that happens, it’ll open the 3-pointers and lobs to Gobert and Whiteside.

Trends You Need to Know

Dallas went 4-0 ATS this season vs. the Jazz while the over went 3-1.

Utah was 23rd in ATS Differential, per Cleaning The Glass, against top-10 defensive teams. Dallas was ninth in Spread Differential vs. top-10 offenses.

Utah is 4-8 ATS on the road in the playoffs since 2018-19. (This trend includes 1-3 in the Bubble as the “away team.” So actually on the road, it’s 3-5.)

Quin Snyder is 10-9 ATS in the playoffs as a dog and 12-13-1 as a favorite overall.

Jason Kidd is 9-8-1 ATS in the playoffs as a dog and 2-4 as a favorite.

Utah is 9-13-1 ATS (40.9%) in the playoffs since 2018-19, and the over is 16-7 in those games.

Narrative Play

Oh, there’s a lot here. The Jazz could shake off the questions about their seemingly inevitable implosion to go on a run. Luka Doncic could finally arrive as a serious force in the postseason after consecutive first-round exits. Doncic could be the hero playing hurt on the calf strain.

Jason Kidd could prove he belongs as an NBA head coach. Snyder could showcase himself for the Los Angeles Lakers.

If you want the best narrative play, it’s to fade the Jazz. They’ve been on the verge of an implosion for months, sniping at each other in the press and melting down late in games.

Can you trust a team in this spot to handle the pressure when it never has before? There’s a real “last year together” vibe with this crew with possible trades and a coaching change on the horizon, especially if they lose.

Teams facing adversity can rally and make something special happen, but the Jazz have literally consistently shown the opposite. In the last two playoffs, they have lost four in a row after a 2-0 lead and blown a 3-1 lead.

The narrative says this team does not have it.

The Bet

As I said above in the Doncic section, the value is on the Mavs if you believe he’s going to play. If you don’t believe he’s going to play, you can roll over the moneyline on Utah. I’m looking for overs given the history between these two teams.

Ultimately, I can’t see the Jazz beating their demons. The blueprint is right there for the Mavs to space out Gobert to the corner and have Luka, bad leg and all, attack Royce O’Neal (who has the worst on-court Net Rating of any Jazz rotation player in the season series) or Mike Conley, who’s too old and small to handle him.

On the other end, that team does not trust Gobert to make a hook shot against Powell or Kleber (or Dinwiddie or Dorian Finney-Smith or Doncic). You have to punish teams for playing small against you if your strength is size, and the Jazz just do not or cannot do that.

I’ll be looking for Mavericks straight up after Game 1 regardless of the outcome in the series opener. I’ll also be looking to live bet the Jazz if their starters lose their minutes in the first and third quarters.

Hassan Whiteside has surprisingly good numbers vs. Dallas and overall this season; I think the Jazz second unit can actually make some hay to come back in quarters where they’re down.

Bet: Mavericks Series Price After Game 1

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