5 Players who must step up if Mavericks want to make the NBA Finals

Dallas Mavericks, Luka Doncic, Kyrie Irving
Dallas Mavericks, Luka Doncic, Kyrie Irving / Sam Hodde/GettyImages
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What seemed like a slim possibility just months ago is finally coming into fruition, as the Dallas Mavericks are advancing to the Western Conference Finals after knocking off the OKC Thunder in Game 6 of the Western Conference Semifinals on Saturday evening.

This came off the heels of a 17-point comeback to win the game by the Mavericks, as two clutch free throws from P.J. Washington helped the Mavericks seal Game 6 by a margin of 117-116.

After Sunday evening's action, the Mavericks were able to find out who their opponent in the Western Conference Finals will be, as the Minnesota Timberwolves beat the Denver Nuggets by a score of 98-90 in Game 7.

5 Players who must step up if Mavericks want to make the NBA Finals

The Timberwolves are a feisty defensive squad spearheaded by young superstar Anthony Edwards and they just knocked off the defending champions and MVP Nikola Jokic, as they've established themselves as the most feared contender remaining in the playoffs alongside the Boston Celtics per most analysts and talking heads.

Going forward in these playoffs, the Mavericks will need to ensure that everyone on their roster is playing near their full potential, as the Timberwolves have solidified themselves as the best defensive team in the NBA throughout the regular season and playoffs, leaving almost no margin for error on the offensive end for Dallas.

This series will be an intriguing test for this Mavericks team considering that most everyone is doubting them, and it could show us that this team is vastly ahead of expectations if they are able to advance to the NBA Finals and beat the Timberwolves, but it's without doubt that this will likely be the Mavericks hardest test yet.

With that being said, here are five players who need to step up if the Mavs want to advance to the 2024 NBA Finals.

5. Daniel Gafford

By no means has Daniel Gafford had a rough playoff run, as the Arkansas product is averaging 8.6 points and 5.5 rebounds per game in 20.8 minutes per game throughout this postseason stretch for the Mavericks. However, Gafford has looked like the lesser of the two big men between him and rookie Dereck Lively II, particularly in the Mavericks' second-round series versus the Thunder.

Gafford bounced back from a defensive standpoint in Dallas' series versus the Thunder, as he used his length and size well to deter shots at the rim after struggling to contain the size of Clippers center Ivica Zubac throughout the vast majority of the Mavericks' first-round matchup. Gafford has also been an aggressor on the offensive and defensive glass throughout these playoffs, as was the case for most of the regular season, but he's struggled to replicate the offensive dynamism that we saw from him toward the end of the regular season.

Against tighter defenses in the postseason, Gafford hasn't been as polished in his post-up and face-up opportunities, as increased physicality in the playoffs has made it tougher for him to get to his spots and rise up in traffic. Gafford has also struggled with his decision making in the short roll a little bit, as he has had instances this postseason where he's looked far less decisive with the ball in his hands, perhaps attributed to some of the bumps and bruises that he's clearly been dealing with in these playoffs.

Gafford also hasn't defended on the perimeter as well as Lively II, and while it's not fair to knock Gafford for some of his defensive lapses in this respect given that he is at least average at defending the perimeter for a center, the playoffs are all about winning within the margins and teams will look to matchup hunt any weak link in the Mavericks lineup.

Gafford hasn't performed bad in the playoffs as aforementioned, but if he can thrust his caliber of play to the level that it was during his regular season stretch with the Mavericks, then the Mavericks will be much better off dealing with the immense size of the Minnesota Timberwolves in these Conference Finals.