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3 things to watch for as the Mavs and Sixers battle again

Coffee. Breakfast. Basketball. Starting work late. Preseason basketball in China.

NBA: Preseason-Beijing Ducks at Dallas Mavericks Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

If there was one lesson to be learned from Friday’s 6:30 am tip it’s that coffee and hoops are a combo I didn’t know I needed. Luckily, we all get another taste of Earth’s liquid elixir and the game we all love.

The Dallas Mavericks are looking to leave China with a win while the Philadelphia 76ers are trying sweep the preseason and carry that momentum into the regular season that has championship aspirations.

Here’s what to watch for as the two teams face off.

Can Dennis Smith Jr. stay hot

Arguably the biggest qualm with Smith’s rookie season was his inability to consistently shoot the ball. His blow-by speed and explosive athleticism were as advertised, but his jump shot needed work in the off season.

Smith apparently spent a lot of time in the gym with Step Curry’s development coach, Brandon Payne, and the summer training seems to be paying early dividends. Through two games he’s shooting 54 percent from the field and 57 percent from deep, albeit on seven attempts. Smith had a blistering first half last game before cooling off in the second, but it’s still encouraging to see efficient shooting numbers from the second-year guard.

Maxi Kleber earning minutes in a hurry

It’s going to be hard to sort out the Mavericks front court with Dirk Nowitzki recovering from ankle surgery. Nowitzki won’t take the floor in the preseason, and it’s entirely possible he misses the beginning of the regular season as well. We know Dirk is coming off the bench, and he’ll still command somewhere around 20 minutes per game. What we also know is that Maxi Kleber is pushing someone for minutes with his play in the preseason.

In the first preseason game, Kleber posted 15 points and eight rebounds while connecting on all three of his deep ball attempts. Sure, we can toss this one out since it was against the Beijing Ducks. But in Friday’s game against Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers, Kleber kept pace with 17 points, seven rebounds, four blocks and two money balls. He’s the only Maverick big that can respectably contest at the rim AND stretch the floor on offense. Kleber could parlay a strong preseason into a valuable regular season role.

Joel Embiid is a monster

This isn’t a surprise, but it was almost painful to watch the Mavericks’ big men attempt to slow down Embiid on his way to 22 points, 10 rebounds and four assists. The Mavericks routinely got abused by opposing centers last season which is why the acquisition of DeAndre Jordan is so exciting. We won’t see Jordan battle with Embiid this game, but take heart because help is on the way.

How to watch

The game tips at 7:00 am CT and can be watched on NBATV.