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3 things to look for as the Mavericks take on the streaking Celtics

Two of the hottest teams in the NBA collide in Dallas! Stop snickering.

Milwaukee Bucks v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The Boston Celtics come to Dallas tonight for a showdown with the fresh-off-their-third-win Mavericks. Feel the energy! Please. We’re not afraid to beg.

In all seriousness this game will be a treat to those in attendance and watching as it might be the first real-look some Dallas fans have had at a Celtics team that is playing better than just about anybody right now. They’ve won 15 in a row, including a recent ballsy comeback against the Warriors. The Celtics are pretty legit.

The Mavericks are coming off a surprisingly lopsided win against the Bucks over the weekend, so Dallas will be looking for their first winning streak of the year. That not doing it for you? OK, Kyrie Irving vs. Dennis Smith Jr. That’s more like it. Here’s what else to look for:

The Celtics have a roster I dream about

Look at the Mavericks roster — the rotation is basically six bigs, six guards and Harrison Barnes. It’s in stark contrast to the Celtics, who have a stable of long and switchy forwards that can do a little bit of everything.

Dallas has been behind the eight-ball of building a modern NBA roster for years now. The Mavericks might have been ahead of everyone in going small when they featured Dirk up front and then Rick Carlisle deployed his devilish three-guard lineups, but the modern NBA is all about going small without really going small.

The Warriors “small” lineup has a 6’7 defensive bulldog, a 6’4 point guard, a 6’7’ shooting guard, a 6’6 do-it-all forward and a 7-foot mutant. That’s not really small. The Celtics prime lineup, meanwhile, has a 6’3 point guard, a 6’7 defensive dynamo, a 6’8 scorer, a 6’4 defensive bulldog and a versatile 6’10 big. Get the point? While the best teams in the NBA are throwing out multi-dimensional wings that can do a little bit of everything and switch 1-through-4, the Mavericks play two sub-6-footers, a 6’1 guard and a 6’4 guard in their rotation. That’s not getting it done.

Harrison Barnes is basically the only wing on the roster with Dorian Finney-Smith hurt, which is why Dallas signed Antonious Cleveland over the weekend. The Celtics can overwhelm you with skill and athleticism. They beat you with quickness yet you can’t punish them on the other end because you’re still trying to post up strong and switchy defenders. Almost every potential playoff team has some sort of lineup like the Celtics and Warriors throw out at varying degrees of skill level. Dallas plays J.J. Barea, Yogi Ferrell and Devin Harris at the same time. Ugh. One of these days the Mavericks are going to acquire a badass forward to pair next to Barnes and it’s going to be really fun. Until then, I’ll just keep daydreaming about the Celtics roster.

Can the Mavericks score?

Boston has the best defense in the NBA by far, using switch-ability and length to frustrate teams into heavily contested jumpers. Dallas just played a team like this in Milwaukee and lit them up for 19 three-pointers. I think it’s a safe guess the Mavericks won’t come close to that number. Before breaking through against the Bucks, the Mavs played another switchy and big team in the Spurs earlier in the month and San Antonio took their lunch money. If Dallas isn’t hot again behind the arc, this could get ugly real quick.

Will Smith Jr. rebound?

Smith played a bad game against the Bucks, scoring five points on 2-of-8 shooting to go along with just two assists and four turnovers. He played only 22 minutes as Dallas won the game behind their vets, Barea and Harris.

Smith struggled against the immense perimeter length from the Bucks and also struggled at times against a big Spurs team last week, despite cooking late and getting a career-high. The point is, Smith is seeing defenders with speed and wingspans unlike anything he saw in college and it’s been an adjustment for him. Boston provides another test with great defenders in Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown.

How to watch

Tip-off is at 7:30 p.m. CT on Fox Sports Southwest or NBA League Pass.