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Mavericks host the Celtics after the conclusion of difficult roadtrip

Dallas lost three out of four on this road trip but finally get to come home for a game vs. Boston.

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

This isn't much of a rivalry game. The Mavericks and Celtics never had that kind of history even though even though Dallas media loved comparing Dirk Nowitzki's performance to Paul Pierce early in their careers. And this game isn't going to have serious playoff ramifications for either team. But I'd really like to beat the Celtics tonight -- mostly because I'm still pissed about the Rajon Rondo trade.

It's some small consolation for the fleecing the Mavs suffered in that deal that they have a slightly better record midway through the season -- although a blowout loss to the Spurs Sunday wiped away any good feelings from a win in Chicago two nights earlier. The preseason consensus was that Boston would be a near lock for a lower playoff seed in the East, while the Mavericks would miss the playoffs for only the second time since 2000. So far, Dallas has proved their doubters wrong.

But the Mavs have one of the toughest remaining schedules in the NBA, so picking up wins against the NBA's good but not great teams over the next two and a half months will be essential to hanging on a playoff spot. A few key factors could decide who comes out on top tonight.

Crunch time performance

When these teams faced off in Boston earlier this season, the score was tied at 91 with 4:28 left. But thanks to clutch shooting at the foul line from Deron Williams and Wes Matthews, the Mavs pulled out a four-point win. Crunch time performance (or lack thereof) has been a theme for both squads this season. With the game score within a 5 point margin in the last three minutes this season, Dallas is outscoring opponents by 2.1 points and has a record of 13-10. The Celtics have a W-L record of 10-12 in the same circumstances. If this game is close in the final minutes, recent history favors the Mavs.

Bench production

That early season matchup also featured surprising production from Mavs reserves Dwight Powell (six points, six rebounds) and Ray Felton (nine points, four assists). The bench unit has experienced some struggles recently but the dropoff in production has been nothing like that in Boston, per numbers from The Celtics' depth was supposed to be one of their calling cards going into the season but they've been a middling team in that regard. Dallas fans frustrated with the team's bench can get some perspective from just how much worse Boston's reserves have looked lately.

Bench NetRtg Celtics Mavericks
October/November 3.7 0.3
December -2.4 -1.5
January -3.5 -2.1
Home court advantage

The Mavs are tied with the Spurs and Clippers for fourth-most road wins (12) in the league. Their 11-7 record at home is less impressive. If the team can start to establish a true home court advantage over the second half of the season, it could go a long way toward aiding their playoff push.

How to watch

Tipoff is at 7:30 p.m. CT on Fox Sports Southwest or NBA League Pass on your streaming device.