May 16, 2022

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The Sports Fanatics

Utah vs. Mavs rides on Luka Doncic’s health

The first-round series between the Dallas Mavericks and Utah Jazz took a turn late in the third quarter of the Mavs’ season finale.

Luka Doncic pulled up with a calf injury and left the game immediately. The Mavs didn’t have an answer to his playoff availability right away, but a typical calf strain would knock him out for at least the first couple games of the series. Of all the superstars in the NBA, few if any are more valuable to their team than Doncic is to the Mavericks. It’s hard to imagine the Mavs being competitive in this series without Doncic.

The Jazz presumably didn’t want to see Doncic get hurt, but it might open up an easier path for a franchise that has had trouble making deep playoff runs. It just depends how much time, if any, Doncic misses.

Mavericks favored over Jazz

It’s interesting that BetMGM opened the Mavericks as a -115 favorite in the series.

Doncic could play and be his typical great self in Game 1 on Saturday and for the rest of the playoffs, or miss most or all of the series. He could also play and be far less than 100 percent. As of Monday morning there was no word on the severity of the injury or how much time he’d miss. It’s all a guess.

The unfortunate part for the Mavericks is they were playing great basketball in the final weeks of the season. A trade with the Washington Wizards, which sent Kristaps Porzingis to Washington and brought Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans to Dallas, changed the chemistry for the Mavs. They took off after that. The Mavs’ hot streak actually started a bit before the trade. They went 23-7 from Feb. 4 on. They were one of the most efficient teams (and one of the best against the spread) in the NBA over the final two months. If Doncic was fully healthy, taking the Mavs at -115 would seem like a great play.

But we don’t know what Dallas will look like in this series.

Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks leaves the court after suffering a calf injury in the regular-season finale. (Photo by Tim Heitman/Getty Images)

Utah still a capable team

Utah is no pushover. It’s a 48-win team that was the No. 1 seed in the West just a year ago with essentially the same roster. The Jazz had plenty of injuries this season but should enter the playoffs at full strength. There are questions about Donovan Mitchell and his recent fourth-quarter struggles, and the overall postseason failures of the team on the whole in recent years. But at its best Utah is a dynamic offensive team and center Rudy Gobert keeps the Jazz above average on defense.

Maybe less pressure will be good for the Jazz. Nobody is expecting much from them. They’re +2800 to win the NBA title at BetMGM, behind 10 other teams. But the best version of the Jazz can still do some damage.

The whole series seems to ride on Doncic’s health. If he’s healthy from the first game on, the Mavs should take the series. They’ve been playing very well. But the uncertainty about Doncic and his effectiveness even if he does play means it’s too risky to take the Mavs to win the series.

Pick: Jazz -105