L.A. Clippers the ideal playoff opponent for Rick Carlisle and Luka Doncic | Opinion

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The Los Angeles Clippers are better, and the perfect team for the Dallas Mavericks.

They’re perfect for coach Rick Carlisle.

They’re perfect for Luka Doncic.

Any opponent is perfect for Kristaps Porzingis.

Carlisle needs to prove he can win a playoff series again.

Luka needs to prove he can beat up the bully.

Porzingis just needs to prove he can stay healthy for a seven-game series.

The Dallas Mavericks avoided the NBA’s now dreaded “play-in” tournament and will play the one team they need to beat to prove they’re nothing more than regular-season frauds.

They earned the five seed to play the fourth-seeded Clippers in the first round of the playoffs for the second consecutive year.

“It’s a great matchup. They have a helluva team,” Doncic said on Sunday night to the media after the Mavericks’ regular season finale. “It’s going to be tough to beat them.”

He’s right. And they need to beat them.

It’s not Michael Jordan and the Bulls getting past the Detroit Pistons, but it’s of a similar nature. To advance in the NBA playoffs, every single superstar must defeat a bully.

Unlike last year, when the playoffs were in the Orlando “bubble” and had no fans, this version will feature human beings in attendance rather than cardboard cutouts and “virtual fans.”

Mavs owner Mark Cuban said via email, “Whatever the NBA allows us to do, we will do.”

That means about 9,000 or so will be allowed in the American Airlines Center to watch the Mavs play the Clippers in Games 3 and 4, and maybe 6. The Mavs are still waiting for word from the NBA as to its postseason attendance policy.

No one expects the Mavs to win the NBA title, or even reach the Western Conference Finals, but they need to show they are making progress to both. The only way to do that is by winning their first series since winning it all in 2011.

The last time they won a series, it was not just any series, but the NBA Finals. And they didn’t defeat just any team, but the previous decade’s super team of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Miami Heat — aka the Heatles — for their first the Mavs’ lone title.

Heck, Luka wasn’t even born yet. (Okay, that’s not true, but it sure feels like it.)

Since then, they are 0-5 in playoff series, and 7-20 in those games.

Since winning that title, their postseason high points are:

* In 2014, Vince Carter’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer to defeat the Spurs in Game 3.

* In 2015, Rajon Rondo permanently benched after his pouting act in Game 2 against Houston.

* In 2020, Doncic’s step-back 3-pointer in overtime at the buzzer to win Game 4 against the Clippers.

With Doncic now in his third NBA season, both he and the team are beyond celebrating a playoff appearance, or a playoff game win.

Last season’s series against the Clippers was the perfect introduction to the NBA postseason for Doncic, and Porzingis. And Tim Hardaway Jr.

The Clippers fouled hard. The Clippers talked a lot. The Clippers used every belittling playoff trick available to bully the Mavericks.

“It was fun to play, I’m not going to lie,” Doncic said. “It was a lot of trash-talking, a lot of hard plays, but it was fun. That’s what basketball is about.”

The Mavs won two games, but were ultimately pushed around, intimidated, and eventually overmatched.

“Their team is different this year,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said on Sunday. “We are different. We have the experience of last year’s playoffs under our belt but this year’s going to be different because we’re going to be in arenas and they’re going to be fans. That will change the dynamic some, which is good.”

Both teams are slightly different, but the main characters are in still in place.

Kawhi Leonard is still the best player with the Clippers, with Paul George desperate to prove he is among the elite players he’s only too sure he is. Forward Marcus Morris remains one of the biggest instigators in basketball, unlikeable only to his teammates.

Doncic is a year older, and Hardaway and Dorian Finney-Smith are competent pieces. The Mavs now will also have Jalen Brunson and Dwight Powell available for the playoffs.

Porzingis is available at the moment, but no one can trust this guy yet. However well meaning his intentions are, he’s missed too many games to be regarded as reliable.

He played in three playoff games last season, and was ejected from one of those three.

Playing every game this series, and being productive, would go a long way in proving himself around here.

The Mavs just wrapped up a nice season, and the Clippers are the perfect opponent to prove themselves in the postseason.

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