We really aren’t short on reasons to watch the Mavs tonight.
They’re playing better basketball than just about everyone else in the NBA right now, rattling off five straight wins, three of which have come in convincing fashion.
Dirk Nowitzki needs just 13 points to pass Moses Malone for seventh place on the all-time scoring list. He hasn’t scored fewer than 13 in a game in nearly a month, so assuming he suits up and plays, odds are he’s going to do it.
Finally, the Mavs have played some of their best games on second nights of back-to-backs. Dallas is scoring 108.3 points per game in seven such contests this season, including hitting 46.8 percent of their shots from the field. Add to it that this game comes on the road against an East team — the Mavs are 10-0 away from home this season against teams from the other conference — and this thing qualifies as a game that could be really, really entertaining.
|Mavs Offense||Nets Defense|
|Points/100 poss.||112.7 (1)||102.8 (T-12)|
|eFG%||53.6 (T-2)||49.7 (T-14)|
|TOV%||12.5 (3)||15.4 (T-12)|
|Off/Def Reb%||25.3 (15)||73.8 (T-20)|
|FT/FGA||.267 (T-19)||.271 (T-11)|
Defense is definitely Brooklyn’s strength. Coached by Lionel Hollins, who recently took the Memphis Grizzlies to the Western Conference Finals, the Nets play a grind-it-out style on both ends of the floor, playing the fifth-slowest pace in the NBA. The defense is anchored by Kevin Garnett (who will sit out tonight along with Deron Williams) and Mason Plumlee, who replaced Brook Lopez in the starting lineup earlier this season. Both players boast defensive ratings better than 102 (99 and 101, respectively).
Neither player, however, averages more than 23 minutes per game. The Nets have a steady rotation of big men, including Lopez off the bench and floor-spacer Mirza Teletovic, known more for his three-point shooting than his rim protection abilities. Altogether, the Nets tie with the Mavs in FG% against from inside five feet — both teams allow opponents to hit 58.1 percent from that range, tied for 14th in the league.
Statistically speaking, however, it’s unclear how much of Brooklyn’s defensive success this season can be attributed to the team’s abilities versus the club’s schedule. Per Basketball-Reference, the Nets have played the easiest schedule in basketball this season. The site gives an “average” schedule a rating of zero. The 29th-place Hawks sit at -0.82, while Brooklyn is all the way down at -1.18, a significant difference. The Nets are 4-11 this season against teams at .500 or above, the lowest winning percentage among playoff teams in either conference, although their 5-5 record against the West ranks sixth-best in the East. Still, Dallas should be able to crack the code tonight.
On paper, at least, the Mavs seem to have advantages in most offensive matchups. Jarrett Jack and Sergey Karasev are both fine players, but Rondo and Monta Ellis are playing at a ridiculously high level right now. Ellis, for sure, will test Karasev’s defensive quickness and the rim protecting abilities of Plumlee and the other Brooklyn bigs. Without Garnett manning the middle, Brooklyn’s defense is suddenly vulnerable. Dallas can play four-out and pull Plumlee or another big man away from the lane to guard Nowitzki will clear up driving lanes for Ellis.
Chandler Parsons, meanwhile, will be guarded by Joe Johnson, still playing at a high level at age 33 and in his 14th season. Johnson has size and thickness for his position, but Parsons has superior height and length, both of which should help him create separation to get clean looks at jumpers.
|Mavs Defense||Nets Offense|
|Points/100 poss.||103.8 (17)||100.7 (23)|
|eFG%||50.7 (T-20)||49.2 (T-20)|
|TOV%||17.0 (2)||15.1 (T-18)|
|Off/Def Reb%||71.6 (29)||22.9 (25)|
|FT/FGA||.274 (14)||.273 (16)|
The Mavs defense has been on fire (in a good way!) since the Rondo trade, jumping from the mid-20s all the way into the teens in only a matter of weeks. They’ll look to continue that roll this evening.
The Nets have really struggled to shoot it from deep this season, hitting just 33.7 percent of their three-point attempts, seventh-worst in the league. The Mavs appear to be improving their perimeter defense in that regard, but Brooklyn will look to test it. Teletovic, for example, hit seven threes in Brooklyn against Dallas last season. It was essentially his performance alone which won the game for the Nets last January.
Part of that struggle is due to inability to space the floor. However, now that Plumlee has been inserted into the starting lineup over Lopez, things have opened up for the Nets. That move had a very similar effect, in fact, as when Jason Kidd opted to start Paul Pierce at the power forward spot last season instead of at the small forward position. With Plumlee rolling and Garnett spotting up in the mid-range, the Nets’ wide-open offense creates better driving and passing angles around the perimeter.
Still, the Nets have struggled to convert at the rim, hitting just 57.6 percent of their attempts from within five feet, per NBA.com. Only 10 teams shoot it worse from that range. The Mavs’ defense is higher-ranked in that region than Brooklyn’s offense, so that’s a battle Dallas must win.
Consider every modern offense a two-headed snake: One head is three-point shooting, while the other is the ability to drive and finish at the rim. The Rondo acquisition has helped cut off driving lanes, the Chandler acquisition has helped cut off rim success, and the two factors working in tandem have buoyed the Mavs’ three-point defense back up to very respectable levels: Since the trade on Dec. 20, Dallas is the 13th-best three-point defense by percentage in the NBA.
The Mavs have simply got to take care of business tonight. With a red-hot Pistons team coming in town on Wednesday night and then another slew of road games on the other side, this is the type of win Dallas has to take. It won’t be easy, and it won’t be short of drama, but it’s got to happen. And if the Mavericks can maintain the level they’ve been playing at, the win should come.