After grabbing an all-important home win against a Western Conference playoff contender, the Mavs are back and full strength for what’s going to be an equally difficult game. At 22-8, the Washington Wizards are tied with the fourth-best record in the NBA. This is a legit bunch.
However, for as much grief as the Mavs were receiving early in the season for struggling against teams with winning records, the Wizards have experienced the same difficulties without garnering equal criticism. Washington is 6-6 against teams with .500 or better records while the Mavs are 8-8. Only one current playoff team — the Phoenix Suns — has played fewer games against .500 or better opponents than the Wiz. Still, both of these clubs take care of business against below-.500 teams, with just four losses between them in 34 tries.
Say what you will about teams having to “earn” respect by beating good teams, but it’s pretty tough to argue with these clubs’ records. Washington and Dallas are two of the best, hottest teams in the league right now, and the court is going to be full of stars: John Wall, Bradley Beal, Nene, and Marcin Gortat vs. the Mavs’ vaunted starting five? Yeah, I’m in.
|Mavs Offense||Wizards Defense|
|Points/100 poss.||112.1 (2)||99.2 (4)|
|eFG%||53.2 (3)||48.0 (6)|
|TOV%||12.7 (T-4)||15.7 (11)|
|Off/Def Reb%||25.8 (14)||76.7 (6)|
|FT/FGA||.271 (18)||.310 (23)|
Monta Ellis and Tyson Chandler both went through shootaround this morning and expect to play tonight. That’s a huge lift for Dallas, as the Mavs will need all the firepower they can muster for this game.
Dallas and Washington squared off once already this season, in mid-November. It’s tough to draw too much from that contest, though, because Jameer Nelson was the starting point guard and the Mavs were also without Devin Harris off the bench. Meanwhile, it was Bradley Beal’s season debut for the Wizards, as he’d missed the first chunk of the season due to injury. Rajon Rondo’s presence alone in the starting lineup gives enough reason to be optimistic that Dallas can sweep the season series against Washington. Wall is a very good defender at the point guard spot and limited Nelson to 2-of-12 shooting the first time these clubs met. Rondo, however, has proven he already has what it takes to run the Dallas offense.
It doesn’t hurt to have a streaking Dirk Nowitzki, either. Dirk was on fire the other night against Oklahoma City, tying his season-high in scoring with 30 points. He’s now just 57 points behind Moses Malone for seventh place on the all-time career scoring list. It’ll take a historic performance for him to pass Moses tonight, but we will likely see him pass Robert Parish for 15th on the all-time field goals made list; Nowitzki only needs three buckets to move up.
Chandler Parsons was also scorching against the Thunder, scoring 26 points in the victory. He scored 15 in the first frame against OKC. He’ll be checked by Paul Pierce tonight, who held Parsons to just 4-of-12 shooting the first time these clubs met. That was before Parsons seemed to find his groove within the offense, however. The Mavs small forward has a huge quickness and speed advantage over the older but crafty Pierce. That’s a matchup to watch: Will Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle run more offense than usual through Parsons to play to that mismatch or will Dallas run its usual offense?
The Wizards played last night in Houston, and while Wall and Beal are both very young players, it’s difficult for guys at any age to play heavy minutes two nights in a row. Those two each played 37 minutes last night, while Gortat played 32, Nene played 27, and Paul Pierce played 30. The Mavs have been playing at a blistering pace since acquiring Rondo via trade, and meanwhile the Wizards play at a league-average pace. Dallas is comfortable pushing the tempo, and that could be a key to victory against a team with tired legs, young as their stars might be.
|Mavs Defense||Wizards Offense|
|Points/100 poss.||104.8 (20)||104.4 (14)|
|eFG%||51.0 (22)||50.9 (11)|
|TOV%||17.0 (T-2)||14.9 (T-12)|
|Off/Def Reb%||71.2 (29)||25.4 (T-15)|
|FT/FGA||.276 (13)||.263 (T-21)|
The first step to slowing Washington down is containing Wall, a task that’s proven to be nearly impossible for most teams this season. Wall averages 17.6 points and 10.4 assists per game in 2014-15 — however, those numbers dip to 13.9 points and 10.0 assists in Washington losses. In the November meeting, Wall shot just 5-of-17 from the field and scored only 11 points.
Forcing him into a repeat performance will be easier with Rondo at point guard. His defense down the stretch Sunday night against OKC played a huge role in the victory. He’s going to need to replicate that performance this evening, although his job will be slightly easier playing in front of Tyson Chandler. Washington runs a ton of pick-and-rolls with either Nene or Gortat setting hard screens to get Wall in space. It puts a huge amount of pressure on big men, so Nowitzki and Chandler will need to be on top of things tonight. Rondo went over most of the screens against OKC instead of going under, so I’m curious to see if that will once again be the case this evening. With Chandler back in the middle, it’d make sense for that to be the case once again, as he has the quickness and contest skills to bother Wall if he chooses to drive. At the end of the day, though, Carlisle knows his guys better than we do, so ultimately it’s his call.
As Washington is on the second leg of a back-to-back, if the Mavs can push the tempo it could pay dividends on the defense end. Tired teams generally struggle on jump shots, but surprisingly that hasn’t been the case for the Wiz this season. Washington shoots 40.9 percent on threes in those games, per NBA.com, and scores 104.8 points per game on the second night of a back-to-back. Both stats are higher than the team’s on any other number of days of rest. Of course, no trend is a rule in the NBA, so the Mavs could very well be the team to break that chain. Dallas has still struggled to defend the three-point line this season, so no matter how tired Washington might be, the defense is going to have to take care of the perimeter.
The Dallas defense has been on a steady incline since the Rondo trade, which is obviously a very good thing. The Mavs are now 20th in the league in defensive efficiency, and they will likely continue to improve in that area as time goes by and the players get more used to each other. Last year’s team, remember, finished third in offensive rating and 22nd in defensive rating. Carlisle has made it a point to profess his desire for the defense to improve over last season’s performance, and so far, so good. However, tonight will be another big test.
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