What has Minnesota done lately?
The Wolves have been playing their best basketball of the season over the last month, with a 9-4 record including wins over the Suns and the Pacers. As a result, they have moved their point differential on the season to +3.6, which is higher than the three teams they are chasing in the playoff standings. Nevertheless, at 5.5 games and only 17 games left in the season, their chances of sneaking into the playoffs are remote, at best. They should be well rested, having not played since a home win over Sacramento on Sunday. Their game in Dallas is the first of a back-to-back which sees them playing in Houston on Thursday.
What stat, player of fact might surprise you about Minnesota?
With Nikola Pekovic likely out with a sore right ankle tonight, the Wolves will start rookie center Gorgui Dieng, the No. 14 pick of the draft out of Louisville. In his first NBA start on Sunday, Dieng had an monster game, with 12 points, 11 rebounds and 5 blocks in 37 minutes. Dieng was one of the key players in Louisville's national championship last season but he has had a hard time finding minutes behind Pekovic as a rookie. An athletic 6'11 240 big man with the ability to block shots, step out and hit a 20-foot jumper and be a passer out of the high post, he has the potential to be an excellent NBA center. I would take him over the Mavs three-headed "monster" at the center position right now.
Which team stat might determine the game?
The Mavericks and Wolves split their first two games of the season, with both teams winning on the other's home floor. In both games, as you would expect, Minnesota handily won the rebounding battle. Even without Pekovic, that shouldn't change on Wednesday, as there's just no one on the Dallas front-line with much of a chance of boxing out Kevin Love. The difference in the Mavs win was their ability to make up the difference in the turnover game - turning the Wolves over and getting points in transition can mitigate the possessions lost on the defensive glass. If Dallas wins tonight, it will likely be because they had the edge in turnovers and transition points.
What do the Mavs need to do to be successful against the Wolves?
They could start by putting a body on the Minnesota big men and at least offering token resistance on the glass. Their performance against Boston on Monday was nothing short of disgraceful -- you aren't going to win many NBA games when you are -21 on the glass. Even Mark Cuban called out Dirk Nowitzki about his effort on defense and rebounding over the week, and while no one expects the big German to become the second coming of Ben Wallace, he does need to start pushing himself on that end of the floor. It's the stretch run of the season -- there's no more time for holding things in the tank. Dallas needs to start improving their rebounding right now if they want to have any chance of competing in the playoffs against the top of the West.