The Dallas Mavericks (2-13) and Minnesota Timberwolves (9-5) will lace them up again tonight, for their second meeting in two weeks, this time at the American Airlines Center in Dallas. Back on November 4th, Minnesota won 112-99, and Karl-Anthony Towns led the way with 31 points and 12 rebounds.
If you recall, that was the second night of a back-to-back and the fifth game in a week for the Mavericks. This time around they should come in a little more rested, though a little more hobbled (more on that later).
Here are three things to watch for tonight, the first game of a home back-to-back, and the second game of a four game homestand.
The Mavericks searching for the free throw line
The Dallas Mavericks are 24th in the league in free throw attempts per game (20.2 per), and 11th in the league in opponent attempts (24 per). Not an awful margin, but something that needs team-wide attention.
The last time these two teams met the differential wasn’t pretty. Minnesota attempted 20 free throws (they average 26 per game). But the Mavericks? TWELVE attempts as a team. And from the starters... one lone attempt from Dennis Smith Jr. There is only one other time this season that total has been worse: in a loss to Utah, when the starters attempted one and the team shot 11.
The starting units this season are averaging 11 free throw attempts per game. That simply isn’t cutting it. Most NBA offenses work best when the ball is zipping around the perimeter, and when one or two players make a point of attacking the basket. For the Mavs, this happens when Harrison Barnes and Dennis Smith Jr. exploit mismatches and go strong in the paint.
The game where that strategy was most effective? The first win of the season against Memphis, when the starters attempted 20 free throws and the team shot 29. More of that please.
The injury bug brings more opportunity
Battling injury is something every team must face. It can just feel insurmountable at times when you’re a team just fighting to get one W a week. For the Mavericks, the injury fairy visited early this year - starting with Seth Curry and Josh McRoberts (it’s possible he’s been injured for a decade).
Now two more Mavs have joined their teammates in the training room: Devin Harris (bruised ribs), and Dorian Finney-Smith (knee tendinitis). Three of these four players are facing injury with an unknown timetable for recovery and return.
This makes for an uphill battle for team chemistry and success, but it also opens up some new opportunity for others on the roster.
Like Josh Bowe broke down a few days ago, maybe that comes in the form of Maxi Kleber, who has shown very short bursts of potential. Or maybe it will be from the (unofficial) signing of Antonius Cleveland. It’s hard to say when we may see Cleveland actually on the floor. Without putting too much hope in this new Mav, do a quick search on him, and there are a handful of experts with positive things to say:
Great move by the Mavs signing Antonius Cleveland to a 2-way. Outlined his game, NBA chances in our G-League preview https://t.co/ZcC6Mmaop5— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) November 16, 2017
Here’s hoping Antonius Cleveland is more than just a cool name.
Pick your Minnesota Poison
The last time these teams met, Dallas did a solid job of containing Jimmy Butler, holding him to four points on 1-of-7 shooting, in 34 minutes. But as good as the Mavericks did against Butler, Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns made up for it, combining for 55 points on the night.
Trying to contest a starting unit like Minnesota’s is no small task, and Dallas’ defense this season is not built to shut a team like this down. It would be nice if they could once again focus in on one, maybe two, of the Timberwolves trio and see if it’s enough to keep them in the game. Otherwise, the Mavericks’ best hope might just be to outscore them.
How to Watch
The Mavericks and Timberwolves tipoff at 7:30 p.m. CST. The game can be watched locally on FSSW or nationally on NBA League Pass.