The Mavericks just gave the Suns a preview of the type of defense they’ll see in the playoffs

It’s often said in the NBA that the regular season is about strengths and the playoffs are about weaknesses. For Sunday’s revamped Phoenix Suns, both featured for 48 minutes as they faced their biggest test of the Kevin Durant era yet in the form of the similarly revamped Dallas Mavericks.

A mere look at the box score confirms the immense offensive power of Phoenix. Devin Booker and Kevin Durant combined for 73 points on over 64 percent shots from the field. The Suns not only have two of the best offensive players in the NBA, they also have two of the deadliest midfielders. When the playoffs come and quality shots are taken away elsewhere, that look becomes essential. Phoenix is ​​almost unguardable in this area of ​​the court. That showed against Dallas.

And yet Dallas led for most of the second half. Had Luka Doncic’s game-defining look at the rim gotten a friendly shot, we might have gotten overtime. How did the Mavericks almost steal this game? They did it with a defensive strategy that Phoenix should expect to see a lot in the postseason and magnify their weaknesses. The Mavericks couldn’t defend Durant or Booker, but they could not defend someone else.

This is an important distinction. The Mavericks were so focused on Booker and Durant, while ignoring the rest of Phoenix’s roster, that they just allowed pretty much everyone else the freedom to fire 3-pointers with impunity. How often do you see someone as open as Torrey Craig about that Durant double?

Notice the half-assed Doncic closures on Josh Okogie?

Amazingly, even Chris Paul was treated as a non-shooter a few times in the fourth quarter. Tim Hardaway Jr. felt his presence at the nail was necessary to serve as a secondary deterrent for Booker, and as such, the Phoenix Hall of Famer point guard got one of the cleaner looks of his season and unlike his teammates, the most Time of second half actually done.

Almost every defense is designed to hit a team’s best players, but the Mavericks took it to the extreme on Sunday, and despite the loss, one could plausibly argue that the plan worked. Suns not named Durant or Booker shot just 8 of 26 (30.7 percent) from deep in the game. Dallas lost by failing to protect the basket and failing to hold the two Superstars. The Mavericks couldn’t really have done anything about that, considering their staff. Ditto for many of Phoenix’s opponents. The best they can hope for is that Phoenix’s bad shooters are absent.

And that’s mostly what happened. Craig may be over 40 percent from Deep this season, but he’s under 35 percent for his career. Paul has been a strong shooter throughout his career, and he’s even bounced back from the deep a bit after being kept under 32 percent last season, but he’s also averaging a career-low 11.1 field goal attempts per Game. Opponents will want to make him a scorer over a playmaker.

And then there’s Okogie, who was only available to Phoenix on a minimum salary due to his lack of shooting. A stellar defenseman and hustle player, Okogie shot just 27.5 percent from deep in Minnesota in four seasons. He’s over 35 percent in Phoenix but shot just 1-of-9 on 3-point Sunday.

How did Phoenix overcome his shooting problems? Well, a Suns reserveer finally started making his shots. Ish Wainwright came on late in the third quarter. He stayed grounded for the rest of the game, making four of his five open 3-pointers.

We’ve already addressed one NBA platitude, so let’s acknowledge another: It’s a make-or-miss league. That goes for every team in the NBA. There’s nothing particularly new or novel about leaving bad shooters open and hoping that disrupts the flow of a big offense.

But that sort of defense will define Phoenix’s championship boost given the makeup of his roster. The Suns were thin even before they were traded for Durant. As of now, their rotation consists of:

  • Two of their best superstars (Durant and Booker).
  • A Max contract center who fired six shots on Sunday (DeAndre Ayton).
  • A 37-year-old Hall of Fame point guard (Paul).
  • Four Minimum Salary Veterans (Okogie, Damion Lee, TJ Warren, Jock Landale).
  • A player converted from a two-way deal last month (Wainwright).
  • A mini center forward (Craig).
  • A buyout addition (Terrence Ross).
  • A backup point guard who almost fell out of the league before finding a new life in Phoenix (Cameron Payne).

That’s two certainties, two flawed but very valuable contributors, and a whole lot of question marks. All of them have flaws on at least one side of the court, but given the offensive baseline Durant and Booker are creating, Monty Williams will likely distort defense with his fifth-place finish. That means plenty of big minutes and bigger shots for players like Craig, Okogie and Wainwright in the postseason.

Craig and Okogie’s misses proved nearly fatal against Dallas on Sunday. Wainwright’s clutch buckets saved the day. What if the three of them, along with the rest of Phoenix’s Isle of Misfit Roleplayers, can’t take those shots? The ground will cramp for the rest of the Suns, and their playoff fortunes will be threatened. But if you can meet her? The Suns are likely to win the championship. They didn’t need many to beat Dallas on Sunday, and that should spook the rest of the Western Conference as the postseason approaches.

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