This is a big game. How big? If Dallas wins, the Mavs will be just half a game behind Memphis for first place in the Southwest Division. As it currently stands, Dallas is just two games behind Portland for second place in the West, meaning a win today and a Blazers loss against Sacramento tonight would put the Mavericks just one game out of second place. Meanwhile, a Mavs loss and a Clippers win against Boston would drop Dallas all the way to sixth place in the standings. Crazy how close the West is, huh?

You could go crazy trying to follow the day-to-day changes in the playoff race in this conference, but the implications are hard to ignore when two juggernauts such as these square off. Dallas and Memphis will play each other two more times this season, both in Dallas. A road win today would give the Mavs the inside edge at winning the season series, important for tiebreakers, and it could galvanize the Mavs at the beginning of what’s sure to be a tough stretch of games, with contests against the Bulls, Pelicans, these same Grizzlies, and the Rockets.

To be sure, a lot is at stake today. But at the end of it all, it’s just one game between two teams, and the Mavs can’t be thinking too far ahead against a team as good as Memphis.

Mavs Offense Grizzlies Defense
Points/100 poss. 110.6 (1) 102.0 (11)
eFG% 52.6 (4) 50.1 (17)
TOV% 12.4 (2) 15.8 (10)
Off/Def Reb% 24.4 (22) 75.1 (14)
FT/FGA .261 (T-23) .250 (T-5)

The Grizzlies defense has stumbled a bit since the last time these two clubs met in December before Dallas acquired Rajon Rondo. Since that meeting, Memphis has dropped to 24th in the NBA in three-point defense, allowing opponents to hit 36.5 percent of their attempts from beyond the arc. The Grizz also allow teams to hit 36.0 percent of their above-the-break three-point attempts, third-worst in the league. That’s an area from where Dirk Nowitzki and Devin Harris have been especially lethal this season. It’s already known how nearly unbeatable this team can be when its threes are falling at a high rate. If that’s the case today, Dallas will certainly have an edge in the matchup.

It will be interesting to see which center Rick Carlisle goes with off the bench today. You’d think that because the backup will be banging inside with big players like Marc Gasol and Kosta Koufos that Carlisle would lean toward bigger, stronger Greg Smith. However, Dwight Powell has played well in his last couple appearances, and if he’s the one deployed the Mavericks offense could play 5-out to pull Gasol, an excellent rim protector, away from the basket and more toward the perimeter. That would open up driving lanes for Monta Ellis, Rondo, and Chandler Parsons, which plays to their strengths as well. Gasol has held opponents to a respectable 50.1 percent shooting at the rim this season on 8.7 attempts per game. For reference, Tyson Chandler has held opponents to 51.2 percent, so they’re roughly equal in terms of protecting prowess, at least based on results.

This is a battle of two teams with completely different philosophies when it comes to pace. Memphis plays the fourth-slowest pace in the league, more than three full possessions fewer than the Mavericks, who currently play the eighth-most possessions per game in the NBA. There’s little no correlation between playing faster or slower and winning games; it’s just an ideological difference between teams. But Gasol and Zach Randolph aren’t the most spry big men in the NBA, so the Mavs might be looking to push the ball as much as possible, especially off of missed Grizzlies shots or turnovers. Memphis is a middle-of-the-pack team in terms of opponents fast break points per game while Dallas scores the fifth-most points on the break per game in the league.

Mavs Defense Grizzlies Offense
Points/100 poss. 103.6 (16) 105.4 (T-10)
eFG% 50.4 (T-19) 49.9 (14)
TOV% 16.7 (4) 13.4 (6)
Off/Def Reb% 72.1 (28) 24.7 (T-18)
FT/FGA .277 (13) .282 (15)

Star point guard Mike Conley is listed as questionable for this game with a tweaked ankle, but at this point there are no signs suggesting he won’t play. It will be up to Rajon Rondo and Devin Harris, then, to slow down the potential All-Star who scored 22 points against the Mavs earlier this season. Rondo has done an excellent job against top-flight point guards so far during his 13-game tenure with Dallas, but his job won’t be any easier this evening. Conley, a left-handed point guard, can drive and finish, shoot the three (43.3 percent on the season), and facilitate the offense all with ease. He’s a remarkable player.

So, too, is Gasol, one of the league’s best big men. He averages more than 19 points and eight rebounds per game, also adding 3.7 assists per contest. The Grizzlies play through him as much as any club plays through a center in the NBA. Tyson Chandler has a tough matchup on his hands this evening — that’s if, of course, Carlisle puts him on Gasol and Dirk on Randolph. Because Gasol tends to play farther from the rim, Nowitzki will occasionally slide over to Gasol so Chandler can stay closer to the basket to contest close shots off of drives.

New Grizz small forward Jeff Green, acquired from Boston, has already made an impact in his first three appearances with the club. He’s averaging 16 and 4.3 boards, but he’s shooting the ball a tick below 40 percent mostly because he’s struggled beyond the arc, hitting just 25 percent of his deep attempts. The Mavs wings, especially Parsons, must keep two eyes on Green at all times to keep him from heating up from deep. The last thing Dallas wants to do is allow the Grizzlies to heat up from deep the way they did the last time these teams faced off — Memphis hit 7-of-14 from beyond the arc, a driving force behind the club’s win.

There’s a lot on the line tonight, and there are so many different factors at play in this thing. That’s what makes it such a good matchup on paper, and it’s likely to be as good a game in person or on the screen, however you plan on watching it. These teams always play close, dramatic games, and this afternoon’s affair is sure to be the same.

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