The Suns have set, the Grizzlies are hibernating, the Nuggets are buried in a mine, and the Utah Jazz played the same old terrible song called “When The Wide-Open Threes Go Marching In.” The Western Conference is down to just two teams - the fourth-seeded Dallas Mavericks and the third-seeded Golden State Warriors. It’s a battle of opposites: One is a veteran team filled with future Hall of Famers trying to fight their way back, the other is led by a young superstar and an array of role players who fit alongside him seamlessly. It’s all about matchups. Take the two stars.
The Mavericks’s Luka Doncic is like the Top Gun character that inspired his team’s name (ed. note: No it didn’t) - a brash young, ultra-confident young hotshot who loves doing spins and rolls, and finally came into his own in the playoffs once his lanky blonde sidekick died (or went to play for the Washington Wizards, same difference), though technically Kristaps Porzingis’ hair was a lot closer to Iceman’s. Like Tom Cruise’s character, Luka was denied entry to a professional institution (the Naval Academy, the Sacramento Kings) because of how the powers that be (the Navy, Vlade Divac) didn’t like what his father did. Also, it’s pretty clear that both were going to end up clashing with a Cuban at some point.
The Warriors’ Steph Curry is like the protagonist of the movie that inspired his team’s name (ed. Note: Once again, no), “The Warriors.” Like Swan, Steph is a quiet leader of a ragtag group of miscreants. Like an actual swan, he is elegant and graceful, despite having moments of ugliness, like when the Curry Twos were released. Wrongly accused of killing basketball with his three-point shooting, Curry has to lead his group across a rough landscape, keeping his wild compatriots in line even as injuries, trouble from the police/referees, and a gang that’s trying to break their arms sidelines them. Ultimately he’s able to survive, even after a surprise betrayal from Brooklyn.
But there’s plenty of other huge matchups in this series. Like:
Spencer Dinwiddie vs. Steph Curry
These are two shoot-first point guards, both very into creative drives to the basket and cryptocurrency. Steph Curry has a Bored Ape NFT as his profile photo and does commercials for crypto exchange FTX. Dinwiddie speaks at crypto seminars, created a GoFundMe where he’d sign with a team of his investors’ choosing if they raised enough Bitcoin, and tried to split his last contract into a bunch of “SD8” coins. Both of them lost a big chunk of that crypto value this week when those currencies crashed across the board, and someone has to pay! Just not a federal agency that insures banking. Let’s see who rules the blockchain and whose shots just get blocked.
Luka Doncic vs. Andrew Wiggins
Both of these guys have been traded for an undersized gunner with a weird hairstyle - Doncic for Trae Young, and Wiggins for D’Angelo Russell. Wiggs figures to draw the assignment guarding Doncic initially, since it’s unlikely Gary Payton II returns during this series. Luka is extremely demonstrative on the court, while Wiggins has the demeanor of a guy demonstrating the safety procedures on an airplane - but giving it 100% all the same. They’re also national heroes. Wiggins is the biggest scorer for his native land of Canada; Luka is on his way to being the top scorer among all Slovenian players, having just reached second place behind Goran Dragic in his fourth season. In your face, Beno Udrih! Luka should certainly win this matchup, but if Wiggins can make him work harder than normal on both ends, it would go along way for the Dubs. Just don’t make fun of him for flopping.
Devin Booker saying “Luka Special” goes into the Backfiring Taunts Hall of Fame, right next to LeBron and D-Wade coughing to mock Dirk Nowitzki.— Sean Keane (@seankeane) May 16, 2022
Klay Thompson vs. Klay Thompson
When it comes playoff time, the only person who can stop Klay Thompson is Klay Thompson. When he’s hot, he can make a shot from anywhere. Unfortunately, he can barely dribble the ball anywhere. And when Klay isn’t hot, sometimes Klay Thompson convinces him to shoot even more, including weird leaning two-pointers that are actually tougher than his wildest threes, but carry ⅔ of the reward. On defense, he still has good instincts and he’s been blocking shots in the paint. That is, until Klay Thompson convinces him to gamble for steals or recklessly leave shooters open behind the arc. Talking about shooters becoming “unconscious” when they’re shooting well is a cliche, but it’s also what Klay Thompson should aim for - a state of pure being and reacting. You know, like Klay Thompson in the water.
Jordan Poole vs. Jalen Brunson
These are two guards who are a little small for their positions, but showed big jumps in performance this season and are about to get PAID this summer. Poole and Brunson each stepped out when the more famous stars on their teams were out with injuries. Both struggled to get back into the rhythm of their offense when those stars came back, working more as the primary option with bench units. They lost some of their normal sharp-shooting while still scoring about 18 points per game and playing the 4th-most minutes on the team. There’s a ton of different variables, but the player who scores more in the Brunson-Poole battle has an excellent chance of winning the series.
Otto Porter Jr. vs. Dorian Finney-Smith
Two quietly effective players who are simply good at everything - solid defenders, willing passers, surprisingly good rebounders, and also guys who can absolutely swing a game if they get hot from three-point range. But the most important reason these guys are matched up is that each of their real names would also work as the name of the murderer in any given episode of Midsomer Murders. I see “Dorian Finney-Smith” as a disinherited heir who kills his father with an oar during a regatta, whereas “Otto Porter” is a disgruntled game keeper who murders a poacher with a man-sized spring trap.
Kevon Looney vs. Dwight Powell
Each team has an undersized starting center whose contributions don’t always show up in the box score, and sometimes get benched for the rest of the half after playing just a few minutes. They rebound, they pass, they get no respect! Looney’s big skill is dogged, unspectacular defense and boxing out on rebounds, while not always getting the boards himself (Game Six very much excepted). Powell’s skill is running pick-and-roll with Luka Doncic, where Powell scores 1.43 points-per-pick-and-roll (5th in the league) thanks to a diet of Luka lobs. Look, Looney can catch about one lob a game, and is more likely to dunk after a defender flies past him, astounded at how long it takes Looney to jump. Even if they battle a lot in this series, they should go get a beer afterward just to commiserate about how small ball is overrated and and the coach just needs to give them a real chance, dammit!
Gary Payton II vs. Tim Hardaway Jr.:
Two sons of legendary Oakland point guards are both out with injuries. We don’t know yet whether Tim Senior will be coming to games, but don’t be surprised if those dads start trash talking each other in the stands, just due to muscle memory. Get well soon, fellas!
Draymond Green vs. Mark Cuban:
Look, Draymond Green is going to clash with somebody in this series. In Round One, it was Aaron Gordon, and in Round Two it was Brandon Clarke - and also rapper Al Kapone, who performed “Whoop That Trick” right in his face during Game Five. It’s hard to see Dwight Powell playing enough minutes to antagonize Draymond, and Maxi Kleber seems too gentle. So by default, it’s going to be the Mavericks’ over-involved owner, who treats referees like they’re prospective Shark Tank partners whose product he hates. To be fair, Draymond treats them worse than that. They’ve clashed before, but can’t you imagine a scenario where Draymond is woofing at the crowd in Dallas, and Cuban gets upset, probably because he can’t open his mouth that wide after all his plastic surgery. Will they get fined for their clash? Almost certainly. Draymond has racked up almost a million bucks in fines during his career, and Cuban has been fined $3.1 million. That’s over $13 million if you count the ten million Adam Silver made him “donate” to women’s groups after an investigation revealed a decade of sexual harassment and misogyny in the Mavs organization. Honestly, that’s like a flagrant-twenty.
Steve Kerr vs. Jason Kidd
This is a big one. Kerr and Kidd were both longtime NBA point guards, but their style was quite different. Kerr was a sharpshooting 50th pick in the draft who bounced around the league a while before becoming part of five NBA championship teams, who got by mainly on effort and smarts. Kidd was a college star who got picked second, made ten All-Star teams, and didn’t win his only title until age 38. Kerr has a squeaky-clean life - he can’t even handle medical marijuana, even if Nick Young claimed he rolled the best blunts in the league. Kidd had multiple incidents of domestic conflict, and multiple drunk driving incidents. Kerr is quite handsome, Kidd looks like, well, Jason Kidd. But Kidd has stepped up in the playoffs, out-coaching more esteemed coaches Quin Snyder and Monty Williams on his way to the NBA’s Final Four. Kerr has been derailed by positive COVID tests and starting lineup tweaks this post-season - but he’s still the guy who took the team to five straight NBA Finals. Maybe if Kidd were there in 2016 to spill his soda on the floor when Anderson Varejao entered the game, that would have been four straight titles instead.