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3 things to watch as the Mavericks host the Raptors

As the playoffs near, the Mavericks take on the Toronto Raptors.

Toronto Raptors v Washington Wizards Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Tonight the Dallas Mavericks host the Toronto Raptors at the American Airlines Center, looking to even the series after a loss in Toronto earlier this month. Here are three things to keep in mind ahead of tonight’s game.

Playoff stakes

Dallas has very slim odds of making the playoffs (less than one percent, according to ESPN), but it’s tough to count them out completely when they’re capable of pulling off big wins over teams like the Los Angeles Clippers. However, making the playoffs at this point would require some unlikely wins from Dallas, and a pretty major reversal of fortune for Denver and Portland.

The Raptors, in contrast, are currently in fourth place in the Eastern Conference, but they’re in a relatively tight race with the Celtics and Wizards, jockeying for position below Cleveland. Assuming Cleveland manages to keep the top seed, the rest of the best of the East are basically playing to avoid seeing the Cavaliers until the Conference Finals.

Toronto has recently slipped a bit behind Boston and Washington, though, so if they have any hope at all of improving their standing, they’re going to need every win they can get. But even though Toronto’s fate is more likely to be influenced by the outcome tonight, it still feels like both teams have a lot to play for.

An uneven match-up

The Mavericks’ last game against Toronto wasn’t the team’s best showing. Dallas was outpaced on almost every measure on the road to a 100-78 loss, but the team was without Wesley Matthews for the second half and Nerlens Noel sat the entire game with knee soreness.

Tonight, on the heels of a big win, the Mavericks will be essentially at full strength, while the Raptors are still missing Kyle Lowry, who had surgery on his wrist. Toronto will once again have the services of big man Serge Ibaka, who was suspended just one game following an actual brawl with the Bulls’ Robin Lopez. He sat out the Raptors’ most recent game against Miami, but Toronto left with the win anyway.

A defensive battle

The Raptors and the Mavericks have some of the better defenses in the league, something that certainly showed up in the not-so-impressive score last time these teams met.

The difference, though, is that the Raptors are capable of mounting a much stronger offensive challenge. Even with Lowry’s prolonged absence, the team has maintained the fourth best point differential in the NBA (and the best in the East) and the fifth best offensive rating, despite struggling a little after the All-Star break.

Although Lowry was the team’s second highest scorer, the Mavericks’ defense will still have to contend with the team’s leading scorer DeMar DeRozan, as well as Jonas Valanciunas and Serge Ibaka in the paint.

How to watch

The game tips off tonight at 7:30pm Central and can be seen locally on Fox Sports Southwest and on NBA League Pass elsewhere.