The Dallas Mavericks open their second-round playoff series against the league-leading Phoenix Suns as a slight underdog, but the Mavs ride into Phoenix on a high and have a serious shot to win this series.
With that being said, it's not going to be easy, and the Mavs will need to take advantage of the problems they can present to the reigning Western Conference champion Suns.
How the Dallas Mavericks can use the Suns size against them
The Suns defense is tremendous and often overlooked. They flip back and forth from zone to man, and their defense has probably been the more consistent side of the ball this year.
But the Suns, like many other teams, switch a lot, which can be exploited. Fans saw what Luka Doncic did against Ivica Zubac, the previous two years, when teams switched their big onto him, and even though Deandre Ayton is the more agile of the two, he will have a tough time guarding Luka or Jalen Brunson in space.
The Suns could blitz Luka a lot off of pick and rolls when Dwight Powell is in to combat that. So when he swings that ball around, the ball must keep moving until it finds the open man because when you blitz two guys at the ball handler, it often leaves the defense scrambling and out of position.
The most prominent way the Mavs will expose the Suns bigs is by going small. Throughout the Jazz series, the Mavericks were able to have significant success when they went small. Brunson, Luka, and Spencer Dinwiddie were all able to get in the paint and kick the ball out for open corner threes when Rudy Gobert came to help. Things will not be that easy against Phoenix, but going small still presents real problems that the Suns' bigs might struggle to solve.
Going small benefits the Mavericks tremendously on defense in some spots. Towards the end of most fourth quarters, Chris Paul enforces his will as a scorer. He's virtually automatic on those 10 to 15 feet jump shots, and he often punishes bigs that get switched onto him.
Going small would let the Mavs switch someone like Dorian Finney-Smith onto Paul, and he would surely welcome the challenge of guarding CP3.
It's also important to add there is a massive difference between the level of skill offensively between Deandre Ayton and Rudy Gobert, which can cause issues. Ayton presents the same problems on the offensive glass that Gobert does, so even though keeping him off the glass with a small lineup is an arduous task, it's something Dallas is willing to give up.
The Mavericks pick and roll is another critical task the Suns' big men face in this series. When Luka missed time with a calf injury, Dwight Powell's impact was almost nonexistent, and when he came back, Luka had some limitations going downhill to the basket. Because of Brunson's recent form, the offense went away from using the pick and roll.
Against Phoenix, Luka and DP will bring a heavy dose of pick and roll back into the game plan because even with Ayton's much-improved defense, he will have real trouble dealing with that duo.
This series will be a chess match, and I'm interested in seeing how the Mavericks answer to the different things Monty Williams and company will throw out, especially against Luka.
The Dallas Mavericks versus Phoenix Suns will be a great matchup between two great coaches, and limiting the Suns' bigs and using their size against them will be significant pieces. There are games within the game when two great teams play, and the how the Mavs do against the Suns' bigs will be paramount.