Today the Dallas Mavericks return home for a rare afternoon tilt against the Los Angeles Lakers. Oddly enough, already halfway through the season, this will be the first contest between these two teams. And though it is not a prime time start, there are plenty of ready-made story lines built in to this midseason matchup.
The Mavericks (15-28) and Lakers (14-27) both sit near the bottom of the western conference standings, but in many ways feel like they’re crossing paths at two very different stages of their respective rebuilds. The Lakers, who have won an average of 23 games over the last four seasons and are on pace to win 28 this year, haven’t made a playoff appearance in that same span of time. Still, they look to have finally loaded up with a handful of solid young prospects, and have the cap space to entice some top level talent - something that could make them playoff competitive by next season. And unless the Mavericks find a few shortcuts (which they look to be loading up to attempt), they aren’t quite on that same trajectory.
Here are a few things to watch in this Saturday showdown:
The Youngs vs. the Olds
The Lakers are the youngest roster in the league, with an average age of 23.5 years old. The Mavericks are the fifth oldest at 28.4 years old. The Lakers have three players on the roster born before 1992. The Mavericks have eight (though Josh McRoberts and Seth Curry aren’t currently in the rotation). Obviously there are a number of reasons for this, namely that the Lakers are much deeper into their rebuild than the Mavericks are. But the point remains that these two squads are built very differently.
Outside of new legs vs. old legs, veteran savvy vs. youthful inexperience, they play different brands of basketball. Playing at a pace of 101.4 possessions per 48 minutes, Luke Walton has his team running (leading the league in pace). With wings that move well in transition, and a young point guard that gets rid of the ball quicker than most in the break, their game is about getting possessions on the run. Questions about whether that is effective or not are warranted, as the Lakers are 28th in the league in offensive rating at 103.4.
And nothing re-emphasizes the dichotomy of these two teams more than the turnover battle: L.A. commits 16.8 turnovers per game (29th in the league in turnover percentage at 14.4-percent), while the Mavs lead the league with only 12.6 turnovers per game (Second in the league in turnover percentage at 11.9). The Mavericks will continue to try and impose their style of play: limiting possessions and slowing the game down. When the Mavs do that effectively, they often put themselves in position to win.
A duel for the next generation
When both Dennis Smith Jr. and Lonzo Ball were headliners of the Las Vegas Summer League back in July, there was a lot of hype to their semifinal matchup. Unfortunately Ball left that game early, and much of the time they were both on the floor they didn’t play opposite each other.
It’s possible, given Carlisle’s lineup adjustments, that we may not see them go one-on-one today much either. Carlisle changed the starting lineup Wednesday night for the first time since November, and inserted Yogi Ferrell in place of Maxi Kleber. That forces DSJ to play out of position on some occasions, so it’s possible he’ll be opposite shooting guards on the floor should Carlisle opt for that lineup again. But one can hope.
Statistically the players are close to each other in more ways than you may expect. Ball certainly has the flashier stat line of ten double-doubles and two triple-doubles in 35 games this season (DSJ has two double-doubles and one triple-double in 35 games). And while their styles of play are different, they’ve both found ways to be effective. Taking a look at their per-36 numbers (at Basketball-Reference.com), the biggest separation is DSJ scoring at a higher clip. If we’re lucky, these two guys will be going to battle for the next decade plus. And this is just the beginning.
Future trade partners?
There have been plenty of rumors pick up over the last several weeks about the possibility of the Lakers and the Mavericks being trade partners closer to the deadline, at the beginning of next month. This seems a perfect opportunity for more investigating, and for the Mavericks front office to see in-person players that they could soon be going after.
Whether there’s any substance to those rumors or not, the Mavericks should be doing their due diligence in the next month to take advantage of any opportunity to make this team better for the future. Rewind to a year ago when the Mavs played the Philadelphia 76ers just before the deadline - little did we know that that transaction would follow soon after (and then it would turn to dust within the 12 months that followed).
If the Mavericks are going to go after any player here it’s most likely Julius Randle. He will be a restricted free agent this summer, has a high ceiling, and will be looking for his first big contract (sound familiar?). Other names like Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. are also possibilities. Much like watching Aaron Gordon and Mario Hezonja as summer targets, Mark Cuban, Donnie Nelson and Rick Carlisle should be paying attention to the young Lakers players too.
Where to watch
Tip-off is 1 pm CT and can be watched on FSSW locally, the FoxSportsGo app, or NBA LeaguePass.