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4 things to watch as the Mavericks visit the league-best Celtics

Dallas looks to build momentum in their second match against the Eastern Conference’s top team.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight the Mavericks cross paths with a team on a completely different trajectory, heading east to take on the 21-4 Boston Celtics. This is the final matchup this season against the Eastern Conference leader; their first meeting last month ended in a thriller that saw the Mavericks squander a big lead and lose in overtime.

After starting the season a stomach churning 2-14, the Mavericks have slowly rounded into watchable form, going 5-3 over the last two weeks. But Wednesday night features one of their tougher road tests, with the Celtics 11-2 at home so far this season.

Here are a few things to watch for as the two teams square off tonight.

Can anyone slow down Kyrie Irving?

If you’ll recall back on November 20 when these teams last met, Kyrie Irving went OFF. Down the stretch it essentially became the Dallas Mavericks vs. the Boston Celtic, singular, with Kyrie putting up an unstoppable season high 47 points.

There was plenty of criticism to throw around after that game, particularly Rick Carlisle’s confusing rotation choices late in the game. The Mavericks simply could not find anyone to slow Irving down.

So how do they fare this time around? Irving hasn’t slowed down much, and the Celtics continue to roll. Outside of Irving, and for stretches Jaylen Brown, the Celtics were cold last time... and the Mavericks still had trouble. Wednesday night is a new opportunity for the Mavs to find answers for defense at the point guard position.

The second unit might be their best chance

Nick Angstadt did a great job shedding light on a weirdly successful bench unit for the Dallas Mavericks. The crew of J.J. Barea, Yogi Ferrell, Devin Harris, Dwight Powell, and Dirk Nowitzki has been an odd bright spot during times that could be very boring in any given game.

In the first matchup, the Mavericks bench unit contributed 31 points, outscoring the Celtics bench by 16 points. If the Mavericks want to give themselves a chance in this game, maybe in comes some of form of this group while the Celtics rest key players.

More specifically, it might come from Dwight Powell, who is coming in to his own as a rim-runner, catching lobs from Devin Harris and J.J. Barea. In the six games since playing the Celtics, Powell is averaging 10.2 points and 6.2 rebounds in 19.5 minutes per game.

Oh. And there’s this:

Harrison Barnes exploiting mismatches

Ignore the minus-21 in his Plus/Minus box score in the previous matchup and his disappearance in crunch time, and you can see that Harrison Barnes had a solid game overall, particularly in the third quarter when he scored 12 of his 31 points on the night.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

In that quarter, Rick Carlisle showed vintage wizard ways, forcing a mismatch at the top of the key with Barnes and Kyrie Irving over and over. For a long stretch, the Celtics simply had no answer, and Barnes became relentless and aggressive, using his size and athleticism in isolation to score and, more importantly, draw fouls.

Barnes was 10-of-10 from the line that night. He rarely hits double digits at the charity stripe, but if he can find that same mentality tonight, the Mavericks are headed in the right direction.

Lottery picks go head-to-head

Jayson Tatum, the third pick in last summer’s draft, has had a really solid start to his rookie season. Putting up 13.9 points and 5.3 rebounds, with shooting splits of 51/51/83, he’s been a pretty complete player and has the benefit of getting plenty of opportunity while also playing on a great team. He previously put up 15 points and nine rebounds against the Mavericks.

Dennis Smith Jr. has had the normal ups and downs of a rookie year, but he’s been everything this organization is looking for. DSJ didn’t have a great game against Boston (eight points, five rebounds, and four assists on 4-of-16 shooting), but has been solid since, averaging 15.5 points per game.

Any time we get head-to-heads between lottery picks, even if they don’t play the same position, it’s a fun measuring stick for the future of the NBA.

How to Watch

Tip is set for 6:30pm Central. The game can be watched on Fox Sports Southwest, the FoxSportsGo App, and NBA League Pass.