Andrew Wiggins' Luka Doncic challenge is next chapter of playoff reputation

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Wiggins' Luka challenge is next chapter of his playoff rep originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

SAN FRANCISCO -- Andrew Wiggins made a declaration to NBC Sports Bay Area's Monte Poole days before his first taste of the NBA playoffs as a Warrior: This is where you make your legacy.

As a former No. 1 overall draft pick whose career has been defined as a mixed bag of expectations vs. reality, Wiggins has done nothing but open eyes through the first two rounds of the playoffs. He has invited challenges, shown a new side of swagger with poster dunks and let his hustle and athleticism do all the talking as a defensive menace and rebounding machine.

How would he assess his first 11 games of these playoffs? About how you would expect the always even-keel small forward.

"I feel like I've been pretty solid," Wiggins said Monday at Chase Center following Warriors practice. "Can still do more, still help the team more."

He has been more than solid, and the Warriors are going to need him now more than ever against Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference finals, starting Wednesday night in Game 1.

Wiggins is averaging 14.5 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game in the playoffs, while shooting 40 percent on 3-pointers. He averaged 17.2 points in the regular season and shot 39.3 percent from deep. But his rebounding averages were at 4.5 and he also averaged 0.7 blocks per game.

The first-time All-Star has been engaged, diving for loose balls and showcasing a catch radius of Calvin Johnson with his ability to snag rebounds. He has grabbed at least five offensive rebounds three times in the playoffs, and his regular-season high was four offensive rebounds in a single game. In the Warriors' Game 6 win over the Grizzlies, Wiggins came away with six offensive rebounds, 11 total and was a game-high plus-20 in plus-minus.

His rebounding will be needed against Dallas. But his main assignment will be using his length, strength and quickness to disrupt Doncic any way he can.

"It's gonna be a tough matchup, for sure," Wiggins said when asked about guarding Doncic. "You've seen what he's been doing these whole playoffs. It's gonna be a team effort. All of us, the whole team are going to have to do it collectively.

"He's a handful."

Doncic, 23, has put on a show, carrying the No. 4-seeded Mavs to the conference finals after missing the first three games of the first round to a strained calf. He put up 30 points and 10 rebounds his first game back, and followed that up with 33 and 13 two days later. Over 10 games this postseason, Doncic is averaging 31.5 points, 10.1 rebounds and 6.6 assists per game.

Dallas won three of its four games against Golden State in the regular season, and Doncic averaged 31.5 points, 9.0 rebounds and 5.5 assists while shooting 47.6 percent from the field and 38.2 percent on 3-pointers. Yes, the Warriors have their work cut out for them.

That work becomes slightly easier and less taxing if Playoff Wiggins shows up. After watching Grizzlies backup point guard Tyus Jones torch the Warriors for two straight games with Ja Morant shelved, Wiggins told coach Mike Brown that he wanted to pick up Jones from the start in Game 6. Not when he crosses halfcourt -- the full length of the floor, the moment he steps in-bounds.

Jones scored seven points, and went 2-for-12 from the field. He scored 21 points in Game 5 and 19 in Game 4. Wiggins might be quiet, but his competitive fire is mighty loud on the inside, just like so many of his other mislabeled teammates.

The reality is, Doncic is going to get his. He's going to put up points, he's going to fill up the box score. It's about making him work in doing so, just as Draymond Green did to Nikola Jokic in the first round. Wiggins' inner competitive spirit is going to need to show up. So is another key aspect of the Warriors as a whole.

Joy.

His teammates revel in the chance of making Wiggins smile. Whether it's showing him pictures and videos of him throwing it down on someone or a different motivational tactic, they've been there to have everybody else see a different side of himself. Nobody enjoys it more than Steph Curry.

"We understand what he's capable of in this league," Curry said Monday when asked about the importance of making his teammate smile. "All the things he's gone through in his career from being the No. 1 pick to having some amazing statistical years in Minnesota but not having much to show for it to coming here. We understand that he can impact winning basketball.

"For him, it's just a matter of if he's locked in and engaged, in terms of what that actually means with what he's focused on on the court. That's being physical on defense, taking those matchups seriously, taking on the challenge of it, rebounding the basketball and then just being aggressive on offense -- attacking the paint or taking open shots.

"When all that happens, he has a different impact on the game, and we all appreciate and know it makes us better."

RELATED: Warriors vs. Mavs positional breakdown, series prediction

The second Wiggins was asked about Curry making him smile, his grin grew exponentially. He was beaming at the podium. Since Wiggins came into the league in 2014, all he has associated with the Warriors is winning.

Well, the keys players to those wins -- Curry, Green, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala and others -- know what a vital part he now is to their championship goals and culture.

It's simple: The more wins, the more smiles. Knocking Doncic off his path in the slightest certainly should bring the Warriors win, and have Wiggins with his teeth sparkling and his mouth wide open from ear to ear.

"Usually I'm just cool all the way," Wiggins said with a hand gesture imitating a long straight line. "But it's good to show emotions sometimes, and I feel like last game deserved it. I've never been here before, so it's a special opportunity.

"And you'll see a lot more smiles the further we go."

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