The Dallas Mavericks unmasked the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference semifinals in May and aim to serve more of the same when the two teams open the 2022-23 regular season on Wednesday night in Phoenix.
The Mavericks won the final two contests of the seven-game playoff series by an average of 30 points to crash their way into the West finals. The outcome left the NBA-best Suns with a bitter exit and a long offseason after leading the league with 64 regular-season wins.
Phoenix lost in the NBA Finals the previous season and now there are doubts about whether the club can get back to that level.
But in the eyes of Suns star Devin Booker, the Suns’ perspective is the team has nothing to prove or avenge at the sight of the Mavericks.
“Whether we win by 30 or lose by 30, we still have 81 to go after that,” Booker said.
Dallas hadn’t won a single playoff series since winning the 2011 NBA title until last season’s stunning run. The Mavericks eliminated the Utah Jazz prior to the Suns. Dallas was ousted in five games in the West finals by the eventual champion Golden State Warriors.
But few people are predicting the Luka Doncic-led Mavericks to return to the Western Conference Finals and that has irked forward Dorian Finney-Smith.
“We’re playing with a little chip on our shoulders because we were a top-four team last year and we feel like everybody forgot that quick,” Finney-Smith said. “But it is what it is.”
Phoenix looked on its way to returning to the West finals when it blasted the visiting Mavericks 110-80 in Game 5 last May to take a 3-2 series lead.
But instead of clinching the series in Dallas, the Suns were blown out 113-86 in Game 6. Then the Mavericks ended a seven-game skid in Phoenix in historic fashion in Game 7, leading by as many as 46 points while delivering a 123-90 knockout punch.
Dallas coach Jason Kidd doesn’t see any carryover effect from the series, though he fully understands his club will be playing an angry opponent in a raucous environment.
“I don’t know if it’s extra incentive, but it’s one of 82 and sometimes as the season goes on we can’t remember who we opened up with,” Kidd said. “Our job is to try to find a way to win the game on the road and again, understand we’re a different team than last year. So, we still are learning each other.
“They’re a very good team — well coached. We understand where we’re going and what we’re walking into. It’s Game 1. We understand that they will be ready.”
Doncic, in his fifth season, enters the campaign as an MVP candidate after averaging 28.4 points, 9.1 rebounds and 8.7 assists last season.
Key guard Jalen Brunson departed in free agency but the Mavericks bolstered the frontcourt by acquiring Christian Wood from the Houston Rockets and signing JaVale McGee as a free agent. Wood will come off the bench as the sixth man.
Phoenix retained center Deandre Ayton by matching a four-year, $133 million offer sheet from the Indiana Pacers.
Ayton was benched in the Game 7 loss to the Mavericks and wasn’t thrilled that the Suns matched the offer. But he recently patched up his differences with coach Monty Williams.
“Everything is back to normal,” Ayton said. “… All I know is we’ve been in here working. We’ve been battling each other, beating up each other in training camp. Coach has been loving it.”
Veteran forward Jae Crowder remains away from Phoenix after the two sides mutually agreed that a trade would be best. Crowder was unhappy the Suns decided to promote Cameron Johnson to starter prior to training camp.
Phoenix guard Landry Shamet was ruled out of the opener with a hip injury.
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