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Minnesota to Face Dallas in Western Conference Finals


The Minnesota Timberwolves secured the season series against the Dallas Mavericks with a 3-1 record.

However, this result may not fully reflect the possible outcomes of the upcoming playoff series due to substantial changes in team compositions and player availability after the trade deadline.

Changes and Injuries

The Mavericks have undergone significant transformations since the trade deadline. They acquired key players such as Washington and center Daniel Gafford, which significantly reshuffled their rotation.

In addition, their stars Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving missed several matchups against the Timberwolves during the regular season. Doncic missed two games, and Irving three.

Therefore, only Derrick Jones Jr. (DJJ) and Tim Hardaway Jr. of the top five players in terms of minutes played against Minnesota are expected to play major roles in the playoff series.

In the only regular season game where both Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving played, the Mavericks demonstrated their offensive capabilities, combining for 69 points on 53 shots and securing a 115-108 victory.

The performance was one of six instances during the season in which the Timberwolves allowed two teammates to score 30 or more points in a single game, highlighting the offensive threat Dallas poses when its key players are healthy and on the court.

Edwards and Jones Jr.

Anthony Edwards stood out as a crucial factor in Minnesota's success against Dallas, posting the best individual scoring performance of the season series with 44 points in a late December win.

Edwards' offensive prowess played a major role in the Timberwolves' victories against the Mavericks throughout the season.

On the other hand, Derrick Jones Jr. has emerged as Dallas' primary defensive weapon against top offensive players. At 6-foot-6 with a 7-foot wingspan, Jones has effectively defended high-caliber players like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Paul George.

Against Anthony Edwards, Jones' defensive impact was evident. According to NBAonly Denver's Luguentz Dort and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope defended Edwards more frequently during the regular season than Jones.

When facing Jones, Edwards scored just 23 points on 8-of-26 shooting, highlighting the defensive challenge Jones presents.

Anthony Edwards, who will likely earn his first All-NBA selection, is expected to demonstrate a remarkable ability to elevate his postseason performance.

He averages 28.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 1.7 steals per game with a .624 true shooting percentage in the playoffs. This level of performance puts him among elite company, including Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Stephen Curry and James Harden.

Edwards is likely highly motivated to surpass his regular season numbers and continue his stellar play in the postseason, especially against the defensive struggles of Derrick Jones Jr.

Challenges in the approaches

In a series that features two physically imposing teams, the smallest player on the court, Mike Conley, will play a crucial role on defense.

If Timberwolves Defensive All-Defensive Team selection Jaden McDaniels starts defending Luka Doncic and Anthony Edwards starts against Kyrie Irving, Conley will need to score a non-guard.

Given the significant size difference between Conley (6-foot, 175 pounds) and Washington, Timberwolves coach Chris Finch is unlikely to assign Conley to Washington, as it could lead to easy baskets, turnovers by Minnesota's big men or fouls on Conley or his help.

Instead, Conley is likely to defend Derrick Jones Jr, the Mavericks' lowest usage perimeter player.

This assignment could allow Conley, who has demonstrated defensive skills with 11 steals and 23 deflections in 10 playoff games, to create disruptions as help. However, Dallas, known for its seek-and-destroy strategy in the halfcourt, could target Conley by using Jones as a screen to put him in uneven situations.

The series will largely hinge on defensive adjustments and strategic matchups, especially on how Minnesota handles the dynamic duo of Doncic and Irving, and how effectively Conley manages his defensive assignments against a physically larger opponent.

The ability of players like Edwards to elevate their performance and the effectiveness of Minnesota's defensive schemes will be crucial in determining the outcome of this highly competitive series.

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