Previewing the Pelicans’ Possible Playoff Opponents: The Dallas Mavericks

With the postseason rapidly approaching, the New Orleans Pelicans will look forward to who they might face in round one. Given the strength and depth of the Western Conference, few if any matchups would be cakewalks. One of those first-round opponents could be the Dallas Mavericks, currently sitting in sixth place (41-29) and two games behind the Pelicans. How would they fair against Luka Doncic and the Mavs?

The aforementioned Doncic is the primary concern for any team facing the Mavericks. How will the Pelicans limit one of the five best basketball players on the planet and arguably the best offensive player? With a league-leading +7.5 offensive estimated plus-minus and slashing 34.1-9.8-8.2 on elite efficiency (62.1% true shooting) from all over the floor, Luka is an unstoppable offensive machine. 

In his two games against New Orleans this season, the Pelicans held Luka to well below his season averages (23-5.5-3, 59.9% TS). Deploying a familiar formula, the Pelicans throw heavy pressure at the ball and early rotations on the back line when Luka inevitably wins.

Throwing off his rhythm and forcing the ball out of his hands is the best way to limit Doncic and the Pelicans have the perimeter defensive personnel to do just that. Dyson Daniels and Herb Jones both defended Doncic well across their matchups with the MVP candidate.

As a unit, the Pelicans match up well with Dallas. The Mavericks shoot the third most threes per game (39.4 3pa) and New Orleans’ defensive three-point field goal percentage (34.5%) leads the NBA for the second straight year. The Pelicans allow the most three-point attempts of any team in the league aside from Chicago, so expect Dallas to launch from deep. New Orleans loves to force early, ill-advised threes, especially from poor shooters.

Aside from Doncic and Kyrie Irving, the Mavericks don’t attack the rim often, with their 29th-ranked 30.6% rim frequency. The Pelicans can struggle against strong spread pick-and-roll offenses and Doncic is the best orchestrator in the entire league with some solid roll finishers in Dereck Lively and Daniel Gafford. Limiting paint touches and rotating with great timing and energy would be key to hiding the weaknesses of New Orleans’ paint defense.

Despite their formidable offense, the Mavs’ bottom-ten defense has been their Achilles heel. Dallas allows easy penetration as many of their best offensive weapons on the perimeter (Doncic, Irving, Hardaway) are poor defensive players. Jonas Valanciunas has the size and strength to dominate against the rookie Lively. Though the Pels’ offense hasn’t been standout against Dallas in their regular season battles, they have the tools to put up points against a bad defense.

There’s only so much a team can do to limit a player as great as Luka Doncic, especially given how dominant he’s been in the postseason throughout his young career. If Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram and company can exploit the Mavericks’ weak defensive lineups, this could be a favorable playoff matchup for New Orleans. 

Analysis by Ben Pfeifer

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One thought on “Previewing the Pelicans’ Possible Playoff Opponents: The Dallas Mavericks

  1. A lot of these stats on the Mavs are before the trade. For example, since the trade, they’re top ten in rim frequency.

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