2024 NBA Playoffs Western Conference Finals preview, prediction: Dallas Mavericks vs. Minnesota Timberwolves

It may not be the Western Conference Finals we expected — the top two seeds are out, including the defending champion Denver Nuggets — but it does promise to be an interesting one.

Minnesota vs. Dallas. The matchup has star power with Anthony Edwards, Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving. It has an interesting battle in the paint with Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert against Daniel Gafford and Dereck Lively II. It’s got quality defenses going head-to-head.

The NBA wanted new faces and different teams in the Finals, it will get that out of the West. Let’s break this series down.

When does the West Finals series begin?

Game One between the Mavericks and Timberwolves will be played on Wednesday, May 22, at 8:30 ET at the Target Center in Minneapolis. It will be broadcast on TNT.

When do the NBA Finals begin?

The NBA Finals tip off June 6, with the first game at the home of the team with the better regular-season record (Boston has the best record overall in the league and would have home court against anyone in the Finals).

The remainder of the NBA Finals games are: Game 2 June 9; Game 3 June 12, Game 4 June 14, Game 5 June 17, Game 6 June 20 and Game 7 June 23 (games 5-7 are if necessary).

Dallas vs. Minnesota Playoffs Schedule 2024

All times are Eastern (* = if necessary).

Game 1: Mavericks at Timberwolves, May 22 (8:30 ET, TNT)
Game 2: Mavericks at Timberwolves, May 24 (8:30 ET, TNT)
Game 3: Timberwolves at Mavericks, May 26 (8 ET, TNT)
Game 4: Timberwolves at Mavericks, May 28 (8:30 ET, TNT)
Game 5: Mavericks at Timberwolves, May 30 (8:30 ET, TNT)*
Game 6: Timberwolves at Mavericks, June 1 (8:30 ET, TNT)*
Game 7: Mavericks at Timberwolves, June 3 (8:30 ET, TNT)*

Three things to watch for in Dallas vs. Minnesota

1) Can Luka Doncic be the best player in the series?

Luka Doncic has not been right this postseason. His knee issue is clearly slowing him down, taking away some lift and explosiveness. Despite that, he averaged 24.7 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 8.7 assists a game against Lu Dort and the Thunder. However, he didn't have any of those 40+ point, there-is-nothing-you-can-do games in the series either—he just got help, and the Mavericks played good defense.

For Dallas to win this series, Doncic must be the best player on the floor. That will not be easy with Jaden McDaniels guarding him and Rudy Gobert lurking as a help defender. Hopefully, a few days off between series will give Doncic’s knee a chance to get a little healthier.

We also could say, “Anthony Edwards has to be the best player in the series” for Minnesota to win. I’m less worried about Ant. First, Dallas will roll Derrick Jones Jr. and P.J. Washington at him, but Edwards will still get his. Second, at age 22 he is already showing what the greats (like Doncic) know how to do — impact winning even when it’s not his night. That happened in Game 7 against Oklahoma City, he saw double teams and was off shooting, but still impacted the game and helped Minnesota win.

2) Which team’s secondary/role players step up?

Both of these teams are here because other guys stepped up last round. Jaden McDaniels stepped up with 44 points across Games 6 and 7 last round. While Minnesota was getting run out of the building by Denver in Game 7, it was Karl-Anthony Towns who made plays and kept his team within striking distance (plus he had some strong defensive plays down the stretch).

Both of these teams will need a lot more of that in this series. These are two of the best defensive teams in the league and points will be hard to come by, it’s going to take McDaniels, Naz Reid and Mike Conley to make plays for Minnesota. Dallas will need Washington to keep hitting corner 3s, plus Gafford and Lively to step up again.

Kyrie Irving could be the biggest key here — he was more of a glue guy doing a little of everything last series, whatever was needed. He will have to step up his scoring this series, which may not be easy if Edwards gets assigned to Irving.

3) Which defense asserts itself?

Minnesota had the best defense in the NBA this season and shut down the Nuggets when it mattered in Game 7, holding the defending champs to 90 points.

From the day Jason Kidd flipped his lineup in early March, starting Daniel Gafford and Derrick Jones Jr. for defensive reasons, the Mavericks had the best defense in the league (the final 20 games of the season).

Both teams are in the Western Conference Finals because of their defense, and both teams are about to get seriously tested by an impressive offense. The defense that shows versatility and steps up will lead its team to the NBA Finals.

Prediction: Timberwolves in 7

This is a coin flip of a series. Dallas could win, and it’s not a surprise. The only thing I feel confident about is that this will be a long series. I trust the Minnesota role players and depth a little bit more, so I will pick them in 7, but the only thing I really expect is a great series.

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