Tonight the Mavericks take on the Jazz in Utah, with the Mavs still looking for their first win and the Jazz looking to turn last night's impressive win over the previously undefeated Spurs into a streak.
The Jazz have been in transition and on the cusp of the playoffs for a few seasons now (you may recall a particularly consequential game against Dallas last April), and this is the year many expected the team to finally make the jump after bringing in veterans George Hill, Boris Diaw, and Joe Johnson to supplement their promising young core.
And while they may not have a winning record yet, that primarily reflects the team’s very tough opening schedule (they’ve played the Trail Blazers, Clippers, and Spurs so far) and the fact that Gordon Hayward has been sidelined by a fractured finger.
So what do the Mavericks need to do to get their first win of the year?
Get Wes going
I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but Wesley Matthews has missed a lot of shots this season. He’s six of 33 from deep so far (just over 18 percent) and tossing up an average of 11 attempts per game. It’s tempting to say this is because the team has been missing Dirk the last two games, but Wes was just two of 10 against the Pacers, a game in which Dirk made four of his nine attempts from three.
While his performance is certainly not reassuring, it’s also a little early to panic. Thanks in large part to Matthews, Dallas leads the league in 3-point attempts per game with more than 35 and is (no thanks to Wes) 10th in 3-point percentage at 34.6 percent. Luckily for the Mavs, Utah has usually struggled to contain teams from deep this season, allowing opponents to shoot better than 38 percent (fifth worse in the league).
Especially with Dirk and his gravitational pull hopefully returning, the Mavericks should be able to get Wes some good looks tonight. The Jazz perimeter defense may offer a good opportunity to find his shot.
Get Dirk in a Mavericks uniform
It’s the sort of thing that doesn’t really need to be said, but also can’t be said enough: at age 38, in his 19th season in the NBA, Dirk Nowitzki is still one of, if not the most, important players on this team. He looked great in the one game he’s played in this season, and the Mavs will be better with him back on the floor, even if this does introduce one potential wrinkle...
Sort out the power forward rotation
Aside from Wes’ 3-point shooting, the other big story of the season has been Harrison Barnes shaking off his playoffs/preseason shooting slump (you can see Tim Cato break down each of his shots from Sunday’s game against the Rockets, arguably the best of Barnes’ career). He’s currently shooting better than 45 percent from three and has an effective field goal percentage of more than 55 percent. He’s also been the team’s second-best rebounder behind Andrew Bogut while keeping his personal fouls and turnovers to a reasonably low level.
But as Josh Bowe argued, it seems as if at least some of his success has been possible because Barnes has been starting at power forward in Dirk’s absence and appears to be more comfortable at the four. Obviously neither is going to come off the bench, so it will be interesting to see whether and how Carlisle handles his rotations going forward.
How to watch
The game tips off at 8:00pm Central on Fox Sports Southwest and NBA League Pass.