Practice Report: Dirk Nowitzki

Mavs F Dirk Nowitzki says the team has to play with poise to have a chance to win but games like this are what it's all about.

No team in the NBA has more road wins than the Mavericks, and no team in the West has more home wins than the Golden State Warriors. Something is going to give tonight in Oakland, when Dallas travels West to take on the best team in basketball by win percentage.

The Mavs will do so without Rajon Rondo, still recovering from facial fractures suffered in Orlando last weekend. Meanwhile, Devin Harris is listed as questionable after tweaking his ankle late the other night in the win against Minnesota. Adversity has proven over the years in this league to bring out either the best or worst in everyone — the season is full of injuries, issues, and drama, and ultimately success is measured more by how a team or player reacts to those events moving forward.

This is the Mavs’ chance not only to earn a signature win, but also to do so without potentially two of the team’s top guards. A loss would be difficult, but a win could change the feel of the entire season.

MAVS PLAYER TO WATCH

Without Rondo and potentially Harris as well, there are two players to watch tonight for Dallas: JJ Barea and Raymond Felton. Barea has received relatively limited playing time since the Rondo trade, and Felton has been recovering from a nagging injury for most of the season. But both players made impacts in the game against Minnesota. Barea scored 10 points and dished out eight assists, also scoring the team’s final four points in a game the team simply had to win. Felton, meanwhile, hit a three and delivered a sick alley-oop pass to Al-Farouq Aminu on the fast break.

Barea himself said after the Wolves game that his role is different in the starting lineup than it is when coming off the bench. With the first five, the point guard’s responsibility is to play a bit more off the ball than perhaps usual, spotting up while Monta Ellis, Dirk Nowitzki, and Chandler Parsons all get their touches. It’s also important to connect with Tyson Chandler on pick-and-rolls early in the game to force the defense to respect that threat. With the second unit, Barea and the other point guards have the freedom to be more ball-dominant, which aligns with Barea’s own playing style. Felton has demonstrated that he’s capable of playing both with starters and reserves throughout his career, but whether or not Harris is healthy, I imagine Barea will still be the one to get the starting nod.

Both are in line to play heavy minutes tonight, especially if Harris is sidelined. Offensively, they’ll share the responsibility of running one of the best offenses in the NBA. Defensively, however, their job will be more difficult, for they’ll have to defend MVP candidate Stephen Curry, eighth in the league in scoring at 23.0 points per game. Curry’s offensive game is so well-rounded that defending him is nearly impossible no matter how good a defender you are, but it will be up to Barea and Felton to try knocking Curry off his game. Dallas collectively limited James Harden to just 17 points a few games ago, although Rondo’s defense had a lot to do with that. How Rick Carlisle designs his defense tonight without one of the best defenders in the league will be something to follow closely.

WARRIORS PLAYER TO WATCH

Everyone knows about Curry and Klay Thompson, the Splash Bros. But it’s the third wheel, Draymond Green, who is potentially more lethal than his nicknamed teammates. Green has risen from a “tweener” forward to a jack-of-all-trades small-ball power forward. He can defend either forward spot well and stretches the floor offensively, shooting better than 33 percent on threes. Strangely, he shoots just 30 percent beyond the arc at home, well below his season average. Regardless, he scored 20 points in these teams’ first matchup earlier this season, hitting two threes and shooting 8-of-10 at the free throw line. The Warriors are 16-2 this season when Green hits multiple threes.

It would seem like Nowitzki would have a big advantage over the 6′ 7″ Green, but he’s listed at 230 pounds. He’s built similar to former Maverick DeJuan Blair but he’s capable of moving like a guard, making him a very tough matchup for Dirk, because he’s got size, thickness, and quickness. Nowitzki can’t drive around him easily because of his foot speed, and it’s difficult to back down a thick player in the post — Charles Barkley was just 6′ 4″ and he remains one of the best post players ever.

Green’s size also allows Golden State to switch freely on defense. He, Thompson, and Harrison Barnes are all essentially the same size and can move very well, which makes defense so much easier. Golden State allows just 97.0 points per 100 possessions this season, tops in the league by nearly two full points. Dallas will have to work hard to manipulate the Warriors’ defense whenever possible.

WHAT HAPPENED LAST TIME

The Warriors stormed out to a 39-18 lead in the first quarter behind blistering 5-of-9 shooting from deep and 7-of-8 shooting at the rim. Ultimately that lead proved to be insurmountable, though the Mavericks would ultimately lose by just seven points.

A roaring second-half comeback reached its climax when Chandler swatted away Marreese Speights’s lost shoe into the second row. It was a pretty comical moment, but also showed that Chandler isn’t going to mess around, especially if his team is losing.

Dirk played a different style of game against the Warriors, sitting in the lane and attacking the offensive glass. He scored 23 points on 11-of-20 shooting and collected five offensive rebounds. If Golden State is going to defend him with smallish guys like Green and Barnes, Dirk’s best chance at easy points is to hit the boards on the offensive end, and that’s exactly what he did last time. Collectively, Dallas secured 17 offensive rebounds in the game.

However, it’s hard to look too much further into what happened last time. The Mavs were without Chandler Parsons and the Warriors were without starting center Andrew Bogut, it came before the Rondo trade, and the game tipped off at noon. All of those factors combined resulted in a really wonky game.

STAT TO WATCH

The Mavs have held opponents to 33.1 percent on 3s since the Rondo trade, fourth-best in the league during that time. The Warriors, meanwhile, shoot 40.0 percent from deep at home this season, second-best in the league behind only Washington. Without Rondo to limit Curry’s drive-and-kick game, the Dallas defense will have to rotate quickly and communicate effectively, something that can be very hard to do in a building as loud as the Oracle. This will be a thorough test of the Mavs’ defense, but it will be exciting to see how far they’ve come since the last time these two teams squared off.

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