It's been well over a month since the Dallas Mavericks (15-23) had any kind of win streak. Tonight, against the Minnesota Timberwolves (16-18), the Mavericks hope to extend their current streak to three games.
The Mavericks are 0-2 thus far this season against the Wolves, losing 90-82 on November 12th and on December 15th in overtime 114-106. Somehow, Dallas missed out on playing Kevin Love both times.
The third match up of the season brings the teams together at an important time. Minnesota is looking to end a three game skid and turn their season around as they've sunk under .500. Dallas hopes to build on their last two wins and start a true winning streak after a frustrating start to the year.
The Mavericks have thus far avoided having to play the Timberwolves when Kevin Love is available, and he's out for at least the next 8 weeks after re-breaking his hand. This will be the first time this season the Wolves see Dirk Nowitzki, who missed the previous two games recovering from his preseason knee surgery.
Luke Ridnour should get the starting nod at point guard, and in the previous two games he's lit Dallas up to the tune of 15 points, 7 rebounds, and 5.5 assists. Darren Collison has played inspired basketball as of late, and it will be important that Collison not let Ridnour get too comfortable running the Minnesota offense.
Alexey Shved will be the starting two guard, averaging 17 points and 5.5 assists in the two games against Dallas this season. His length can frustrate O.J. Mayo, but I'm hopeful we see Mayo regain some of his early season form as he learns his role in the Dirk-centric offense.
Small forward Andrei Kirilenko is the type of forward that has caused Dallas problems this season. In the first two match ups he averaged 15 points and 10.5 rebounds. Marion should pick up the defensive assignment and this particular match up will be worth watching as both players are extremely effective off the ball. Kirilenko is an incredibly smart player who will look to take advantage of every Dallas miscue.
Dante Cunningham is a solid shooting power forward who hurt the Mavericks in the first match up, going for 14 points and 8 rebounds off the bench. Though I expect Kirilenko to pick up Dirk on the defensive end, Nowitzki is going to have to make sure Cunningham doesn't get many wide open attempts and keeps him off the boards.
6'11", 290 pound monster Nikola Pekovic patrols the middle for the Wolves. In the first two games, Pek averaged just over 20 points and 7 rebounds per contest. Chris Kaman will have his hands full as Pek will bully his match up under the rim and has a variety of basic, but effective post moves. In the overtime loss, Dallas actually frustrated Pek into a poor first half but let him get going in the second. Kaman should look to get Pek in foul trouble by taking the ball at him instead of settling for his 10-17 foot jump shots.
Elton Brand and Vince Carter will see significant minutes off the bench as per the usual for Dallas, with former second over all pick Derrick Williams and point guard sensation Ricky Rubio seeing time for the Timberwolves. The quality of bench play is pretty even for both teams, with the Wolves having better options at the guard spots and Dallas having more quality players at forward.
Dirk obviously changes the flow of the game as we've seen since his return to the starting line up. I expect Dallas to run early and often in an attempt to get the Wolves into foul trouble and out of their half court rhythm. Minnesota has looked challenged as of late, and Dallas should look to take advantage of the fact that Minnesota is coming off a loss last night in San Antonio. It's been a while since I've said this, but I expect a Dallas win tonight.