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Three things to watch for as the Mavericks take on the Spurs

Although San Antonio will be shorthanded, we all know this won’t be easy for Dallas.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Dallas Mavericks Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

As the Dallas Mavericks try to hit some sort of stride to get them out of their 2-12 funk, their big brothers, the San Antonio Spurs, will be the next opponent on deck (oh dear God, the schedule, make it stop). The Spurs will more than likely be without Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker, but that doesn’t make the task any easier for the Mavs, as LaMarcus Aldridge has had a terrific start to the season, averaging 21.8 points and 8.5 rebounds, while shooting 50-percent from the floor overall and 41-percent from deep.

Here’s 3 things to watch for tonight.

Rick Carlisle vs. Gregg Popovich

No matter how much disparity there is between the talent on the Mavs’ and the Spurs’ rosters, it’s always one you want to consider watching because anything can happen when two of the best coaches in the league matchup against each other. Want an over-used example of what I'm talking about? Look no further than what happened in the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs, when the eighth-seeded Mavs took the top-seeded Spurs to 7 games, highlighted by this Vince Carter game-winner in Game 3.

I definitely wouldn’t expect anything that dramatic from this Mavs team, but their only two wins are against some pretty high quality opponents (Grizzlies and Wizards), so don’t be shocked if Carlisle can pull some magic and make this a good game.

Nerlens Noel minutes watch (forever and ever and ever...)

In a game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Noel didn’t even touch the floor, per Rick Carlisle’s decision. So it couldn’t have gotten any worse in the next game, right? Well, in the Mavs last game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Noel was literally the last active player to check into the game, and it was in the final minutes of garbage time. That’s got to be embarrassing for Noel, but at what point does he say enough is enough and does whatever is necessary to get on the court and stay on the court?

All of the recent comments made by Carlisle indicate that Noel isn’t working hard enough to beat out Salah Mejri and Dwight Powell for minutes. Maybe Noel just doesn’t have the competitive fire that the Mavs so desperately want and need him to have. Regardless, Carlisle is trying to make him earn it right now. For the sake of salvaging what’s left of this season and what’s left of the Mavs’ relationship with Noel, let’s hope there’s a breakthrough soon.

Dennis Smith Jr. could be in for a nice game

He’s had a lot of nice games here lately, but playing against an older team without their best defender and starting point guard should give the rookie another opportunity to show out. So far in the month of November, despite the brutal schedule, Smith Jr. has averaged 18.3 points (40-percent overall, 30-percent from deep), 4.2 assists and 4.7 rebounds in nearly 30 minutes per game. Smith Jr. has upped his scoring average by 7 points from October to November, which shows how much more comfortable he’s becoming in the Mavs’ system.

Smith Jr. hasn’t disappointed so far, and as long as he’s healthy and in the starting lineup, he will always be a big reason to watch the Mavs play this season.

How to watch

The Mavs and Spurs tipoff at 7:30 p.m. CST. The game can be watched locally on FSSW or nationally on NBA League Pass.