The 2021-22 NBA regular season has officially come to an end, as 14 teams begin their offseason while the other 16 advance to the playoffs. The top eight teams from each respective conference will now get a fresh start as dreams of making it to the NBA Finals begin. At this point, regular season records and statistics no longer matter as a blank slate is given to each franchise in the postseason.In the Western Conference, one of the most anticipated matchups is between the Dallas Mavericks (No. 4) and Utah Jazz (No. 5) which is a series that will begin on Saturday night. The Mavericks finished the regular season with a record of 52-30, which gave them the slight edge on the Jazz (49-33) for home court advantage. As such, Dallas will host the first two games of the series and also Game 7 if it’s needed. This could become a huge advantage to get the series off on the right foot and potentially close it out at home. Any advantage will be key for the Mavs, as their superstar in Luka Doncic is expected to miss Game 1 and potentially Game 2 with a calf strain.
The Mavericks had a fairly slow start to the season, but ultimately got better as it went on. Gradual growth and improvement is a good sign for Dallas, as the team could be peaking at the right time. Early in the season, Jalen Brunson began to emerge as a legitimate piece of the roster. He’ll be a primary scorer for the Mavs during the postseason. Alongside him in the backcourt will be Spencer Dinwiddie, who was the cornerstone piece of the Kristaps Porzingis trade with the Washington Wizards at the deadline.
While defense was something that’s held the Mavericks back during the past few seasons, it’s been a strength in the 2021-22 campaign. They finished the regular season as the seventh-best team on that end of the floor with a defensive rating of 101.9. Additionally, Dallas was well-disciplined and took great care of the ball. The Mavs’ 1025 turnovers on the season were the third-fewest of any team.
Lacking a dominant center could detrimental for the Mavs in this series, as they’ll go up against a a deep frontcourt team. Utah was a top-three rebounding team this season, while the Mavericks finished 24th in the league. On the flip side, if Dallas is able to have success using their unique floor-spacing bigs and small ball lineups, Utah could have to play out of character to match up.
Dallas hasn’t won a playoff series since its championship run back in 2011. As such, the Mavs are on one of the longest active droughts in the NBA when it comes to winning a postseason series. Could this be the first time in over a decade that they advance past the first round?
If the Mavericks are going to have success without Doncic, it will likely come down to Dinwiddie and Brunson. Both have been extremely effective this season whether their superstar teammate is on the floor or not. If they struggle while Doncic is out, the Jazz could jump out to an early series lead before heading back to Utah.
Utah had a strong start to the season, but has really struggled of late. In fact, the Jazz went just 7-8 over their final 15 games of the season. While Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell have been great once again, the production from the role players around them has been fairly inconsistent. There’s no question Utah has the pieces to make a championship push, but will they all come together and play at the top of their games when it matters most? Scoring shouldn’t be a problem, as Bojan Bogdanovic, Jordan Clarkson and Mike Conley are able to score 20 points each on any given night.
During the regular season, the Jazz took second-most shots from deep (40.3 per game) and knocked down 36.0% of them. They also did a great job at getting to the rim and drawing fouls, finishing fourth in the league in free throw attempts this season with 23.4 per game. These are just some of the things that led Utah to the top offensive rating (11.2) in the NBA this season. What’s most interesting about the Jazz offense is that it’s heavily in isolation, as they were bottom five in both assists per game and assist percentage.
However, the playoffs are all about superstars and who can get a bucket when it’s needed, so perhaps that style of play will work in Utah’s favor. The Jazz also don’t take a ton of shots, playing with a slower pace and attempting the sixth-fewest shots in the league this season. This isn’t dissimilar from the Mavericks, who were in the bottom five in terms of field goal attempts in the regular season.
One of the best defenders in the entire NBA, Gobert will be a major factor on that end of the floor against the Mavs. Since the All-Star break, he’s limited opponents to 39.1% when he’s the closest defender.
The duo of Mitchell and Gobert has certainly had its flaws in the past. If the Jazz aren’t able to get out of the first round this season, could it be time for a major roster shakeup? It seems this series could directly impact what the Utah roster looks like moving forward.
In four games during the 2021-22 campaign, the Jazz and Mavericks have split the regular season series. Utah won the first two matchups of the season, while Dallas won the two more recently. That’s indicative of the seasons these two teams have had, as the Jazz looked better to start but the Mavs have been better down the stretch.
Outside of the primary stars in this series, there are several players for both teams that could really impact the outcomes. For Utah, Conley and Rudy Gay are veterans that have the experience to shine in the big moments. However, if they struggle the Jazz could have a rough series. For Dallas, Davis Bertans and Reggie Bullock will be important offensively, as they have the firepower to fill it up from beyond the arc. If they aren’t converting from deep and producing points, the Mavericks’ offense could stall.