Shootaround: Richard Jefferson

Richard Jefferson offers his condolences and sends well wishes to Rajon Rondo.

With the news of Rajon Rondo’s orbital and nasal fractures looming, the Mavs’ depth will now be tested. Devin Harris, JJ Barea, and Raymond Felton all figure to see an increase in playing time while Rondo recovers from the nasty injury he sustained over the weekend. First up for Dallas: the Minnesota Timberwolves, who the Mavs have already defeated in convincing fashion twice this season.

MAVS PLAYER TO WATCH

Monta Ellis will likely be the primary facilitator tonight, which could be difficult as he’ll be defended by the super-long, uber-athlete, rookie Andrew Wiggins. Ellis did a terrific job balancing playmaking and scoring himself in the win against Orlando on Saturday night, played mostly without Rondo, scoring 25 points on 11-of-20 shooting and dishing out 13 assists, his most since February 2014.

Wiggins has the length to keep Ellis at bay on the perimeter, however, so the Mavs must get creative to get their 2-guard in space. That’s where Dirk Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler come in, who will have to set solid screens to remove Wiggins from the equation. Ellis has been money from the mid-range lately, and the Wolves will likely look to concede those shots in favor of letting Monta get all the way to the rim uncontested. If Dirk and Chandler can set effective screens and Ellis makes the right read off the bounce, the Mavs offense is nearly unstoppable — it doesn’t matter who’s defending.

Another burden will be on Ellis at the other end: defending Wiggins. The rookie is coming off a 33-point performance on 14-of-25 shooting against LeBron James and the Cavs on Saturday night. At 6′ 8″, Wiggins is nearly impossible for most shooting guards to match in terms of size and length. However, last time around against Dallas Wiggins scored just five points on 2-of-6 shooting. No matter how good a player is, his rookie season is always a roller coaster.

WOLVES PLAYER TO WATCH

Wolves point guard Ricky Rubio is set to make his return from significant injury tonight. He appeared in just three games this season before suffering a brutal ankle injury which has kept him out of the last 43 games.

When healthy, Rubio is one of the more exciting players in the league. At 6’4″, 180, he has great size for a point guard and he moves extremely well. He averages 8.2 assists per game for his career and finds some of the most creative passing angles, not unlike what we’re used to seeing from Rondo. Rubio also runs the floor as well as anyone — it was assumed that he and Wiggins would lead one of the best open-floor offenses in basketball, but unfortunately his injury has kept him out for most of the season.

The one element that’s been missing from Rubio’s game is the three-point shot. He’s just a career 32.2 percent shooter from deep, a weakness exaggerated even more because he’s never shot twos better than 40 percent in a season, either. Shooting percentage aside, he still finds ways to impact every game he plays in, which speaks volumes of his other abilities. It will be up to Harris, Barea, and Felton to keep Rubio on the outside and prevent him from getting in the lane and creating for others. He’s also a sneaky defender, averaging 2.3 steals per game for his career. The point guards can’t afford to lose their handle, otherwise it will likely turn in to two points and a momentum swing the other way for Minnesota.

HIGHLIGHTS FROM LAST TIME

There were plenty of highlights the last time the Mavs and Wolves squared off. Dallas won by 23 and sank 11 treys, but arguably no play stood out more than this Rondo fake behind-the-back pass.

Filthy.

Chandler Parsons was also an absolute force in the last meeting, scoring 19 points in the first half alone. Most of them came either at the rim in transition or from beyond the three-point line. Here’s all of his layups…

Aaaaand here are all four of his threes.

The Mavs are unquestionably a better team when Parsons is on his game: Dallas is 17-7 when he scores at least 15 points and 15-10 when he doesn’t.

STAT TO WATCH

Dallas hit 11 threes in these teams’ last meeting, shooting 40.7 percent behind the arc. The Mavs are now 15-3 when they sink at least 40 percent of their three-point attempts. It goes without saying that 40 percent is a threshold they look to cross every game, but it’s easier said than done, especially without Rondo. The Mavs shoot that same 40.7 percent from deep with Rondo on the floor this season and just 33.2 percent without him. If that’s not an indicator of a good playmaker, I don’t know what is.

That means it will be up to Ellis and Parsons to generate looks for themselves and for others beyond the arc, as well as all three point guards. Dallas still has plenty of shooters, but the club will have to find other ways to get them the ball.

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