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3 things to watch as the Mavericks battle the Heat

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With both teams coming off a victory, here’s what to look for in tonight’s game.

NBA: Miami Heat at Boston Celtics Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight the Dallas Mavericks (9-23) head to Miami where they’ll face the Heat (16-15), or perhaps the Heat’s bench as the team is likely missing several starters. With both teams coming off victories and a day of rest, what can we expect to see in tonight’s game?

Don’t sleep on Miami

Miami may not be a championship contender even at full speed, and tonight they’ll be without Goran Dragic, Hassan Whiteside, Justise Winslow, and James Johnson. But even plagued by injury, this team can rarely be counted as an easy win. Last year, this group managed to drag themselves out of the depths of the Eastern Conference with a 13-game winning streak. They missed the playoffs, but just barely.

This season they’re sitting just one spot out of eighth seed, half a game behind the New York Knicks. Every game counts when you’re on the bubble, and the Miami bench managed to score a one-point victory over the Boston Celtics Wednesday night, thanks in large part to a career performance from Kelly Olynyk.

The former Celtic has quietly been having one of the most efficient seasons of his career. His effective field goal percentage is over 60 percent, and he’s hitting almost 43 percent of his threes (and taking more than four per 36 minutes). Olynyk has been starting thanks to the team’s injury woes; he could certainly make life tough for the Mavericks tonight.

They Heat will be riding the momentum of their win over Boston into tonight’s game, so don’t expect them to make things easy, even with more than half of their starters missing.

You’ve got to make your... three pointers

As Josh wrote earlier this week, Dallas has a talent problem. It’s true the team has had some bad luck, but given their very real roster issues, the Mavericks’ best hope for a win is almost always that someone (or ideally someones) get hot from deep.

Looking at the Mavericks win-loss splits, there’s no more striking comparison than their three-point percentage. In the team’s nine wins, it’s 42.6 percent; in their losses, it drops to 33.8 percent. Tonight, perhaps they can take advantage of the fact that the Heat rank just 17th in opponent three-point percentage.

Welcome back, Dennis

Dennis Smith Jr. made his debut Wednesday night after sitting for six games with a hip strain. He played well in the Mavericks’ win over the Pistons, despite being restricted to just 21 minutes, earning 15 points on 50 percent shooting plus five rebounds and five assists.

No word (as of this writing) on his minutes tonight, but with another game looming on Saturday, the team may continue to take it slow.

How to watch

Tonight’s game tips off at 7:00pm Central. You can catch it locally on Fox Sports Southwest or on NBA League Pass outside of the Dallas area.