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May 6, 2024 7:53 pm

Thunder, Mavericks look for more from stars as series opens

luka doncic

The Oklahoma City Thunder and Dallas Mavericks advanced out of the first round without stellar performances from their superstars.

But as they prepare for their Western Conference second-round matchup, which begins Tuesday in Oklahoma City, both teams likely will need more from their top players — the Thunder’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and the Mavericks’ Luka Doncic.

In Oklahoma City’s first-round sweep of New Orleans, Gilgeous-Alexander averaged 27.3 points, 5.0 assists and 1.5 steals and shot 47.6 percent from the floor and 29.4 percent from beyond the 3-point arc.

Those numbers were all below his regular-season averages.

Gilgeous-Alexander, whose wife gave birth to their son during the first-round series, is looking forward to a new experience in the series.

“I’m ready for it,” said Gilgeous-Alexander, who has previously appeared in playoff series with the Los Angeles Clippers in 2019 and Thunder in 2020. “I’m excited for it. I’ve never been to the second round.”

Doncic averaged 29.8 points, 9.5 assists and 8.8 rebounds in the Mavericks’ 4-2 first-round series win over the Clippers, but he shot just 40.5 percent from the floor and 23.9 percent from beyond the arc.

Doncic shot a career-high 38.2 percent on 3-pointers during the regular season but has been dealing with a right knee sprain that has hindered him since just before the playoffs.

“I don’t think it’s going to get better before I get some rest,” Doncic said. “That’s a lot of minutes. Maybe the summer.”

But Doncic plans to grind through the injury, and even at less than 100 percent, he will be a focus of Oklahoma City’s defensive efforts.

“It’ll be a full-team effort, for sure,” Gilgeous-Alexander said of defending Doncic. “He is who he is for a reason. No one guy slows him down. We have one of the best — if not the best — perimeter defenders in the NBA. We’ll lean on him a little bit.”

That defender, Luguentz Dort, was a big reason Oklahoma City dispatched the Pelicans quickly in the first round and advanced to the second round for the first time since the 2016 run to the Western Conference finals.

“The ball is going to be in his hands a lot, so my main thing is to make everything tough,” Dort said of defending Doncic.

Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said Doncic and Tim Hardaway Jr., who missed the last four games of the first-round series with an ankle sprain, have responded well.

“They’ve been great,” Kidd said. “They look great. They look ready to go.”

Though Hardaway will be back, Dallas will be without reserve power forward/center Maxi Kleber, who suffered a dislocated AC joint in his right shoulder in the series-clinching Game 6 win over the Clippers, and Olivier-Maxence Prosper, who suffered an ankle injury early in the first-round series.

The Mavericks are in the second round for just the second time since their 2011 championship run. Dallas made the Western Conference finals in 2022.

The Thunder won three of the four meetings between the teams this season, including both matchups in Oklahoma City.

Amid speculation he was being targeted by the Lakers, Kidd signed a multi-year contract extension with the Mavericks, the team announced Monday.

–Field Level Media

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