Luka Doncic and his teammates remind Jason Kidd a little of the last Dallas Mavericks team to advance in the playoffs.
The coach now was the point guard then when the Mavericks had split the first four games of the 2011 playoffs against the Portland Trail Blazers. He recalls people thinking Dallas might not even get out of that series.
Instead, the Mavericks won the next two games and never looked back. They swept the two-time defending NBA champion Lakers in the next round and ended up winning the title themselves by beating Miami in the NBA Finals.
This year, Dallas again started 2-2, then won two straight to get by the Utah Jazz with a 98-96 victory on Thursday night. The current Mavericks don't have the experience and may not have the talent of his title team, but Kidd said they are a special group.
“They truly believe, small or big — we’re not very big — but they find a way to win and they have fun doing it,” Kidd said. “And hopefully this gives us confidence going against the best team in the NBA right now.”
That would be the Phoenix Suns, the No. 1 seed after finishing 64-18 for the NBA's best record. They also wrapped up their series with a Game 6 victory on Thursday in New Orleans and will host the Mavericks in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals on Monday.
“I think we’re going to have to play our best basketball,” Doncic said. “They were in the finals last year, No. 1 team this year, so it’s going to be really tough. The crowd really gets them going, so I think we’re going to have to play our best basketball to beat them.”
Doncic always plays well in the postseason, but it hadn't resulted in a series victory yet. The Mavericks lost to the Los Angeles Clippers in each of the last two years, even though he averaged more than 31 points in both.
The Mavs had to open this series without their All-Star, who missed the first three games with a calf strain sustained on the final day of the regular season. Once he returned, he averaged 29 points and 10.7 rebounds.
Unlike those previous series, when it appeared sometimes Doncic had to do it all alone, he shared the scoring load against the Jazz. Jalen Brunson followed his best NBA season — and set himself up to cash in nicely in the offseason — by averaging 27.8 points.
That came after he didn't play in the 2020 series and played poorly in the final four games last year as the Mavs blew a 2-0 lead.
“Pretty much I’m over the past two years,” Brunson said. “This year is different for me and looking forward to continuing it and trying to help my team win.”
With Doncic, Brunson and midseason acquisition Spencer Dinwiddie, the Mavs' strength is their three-guard lineup. Still, Dallas rarely looks explosive offensively.
Instead, it's a defense that allowed 104.7 points, just behind Boston for best in the NBA, that carried the Mavericks to a 52-30 record and the No. 4 seed in the West. Now they'll see what they can do against the Suns.
“We’re not going to be a fancy group,” Kidd said. “We don’t have a lot of big names — Luka’s the one that gets the majority of the attention — but JB, Dorian (Finney-Smith) and Reggie (Bullock) and those guys really, truly believe in team, and that’s what helped us win this series.”