Lowe: Why the Dallas Mavericks and LA Clippers both face enormous pressure in Game 3

Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks defeated the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 2. Harry How/Getty Images

Welcome to the first truly big game of the 2024 playoffs: Game 3 between the LA Clippers and Dallas Mavericks, two teams that fell on the opposite side of the West bracket from the defending champion Denver Nuggets -- teams that would be confident facing the winner of the Oklahoma City Thunder-New Orleans Pelicans series in the next round.

Both are under enormous pressure -- some self-imposed -- to make at least the conference finals. The Mavericks owe their 2024 first-round pick to the New York Knicks -- the last vestige of the ill-fated Kristaps Porzingis deal -- and do not control any of their first-round picks from 2027 through 2030. They traded all those picks and swap rights to reformat their roster around Luka Doncic -- including some trades that were essentially meant to undo prior transactional failures.

The Clippers do not control any of their own picks until 2030. They traded almost everything -- including Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, now looming as a potential second-round foe -- to pair Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. In four seasons so far, they have won three playoff series.

Two of those have come against Doncic and the Mavericks. These teams know each other very well. The amount of combined star power is staggering, all of it on the perimeter: six future Hall of Famers, including some of the greatest ball handlers and scorers in NBA history.

Yet all that scoring has translated into an ultraslow slog. Leonard missing the Clippers' rousing Game 1 win in effect delayed the start of the chess match between these superstars and their point guards-turned-coaches. The real strategic back-and-forth begins Friday night.