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3 things to watch for as the Mavericks take on the Lakers

The Mavericks are cruising to the Staples Center for the second time this season.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Los Angeles Lakers Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

If you can believe it, the Dallas Mavericks, winners of eight of the last 10 games, have surfaced above .500 after a 2-7 start. Key wins against Western Conference foes have propelled the Mavericks to the eighth seed almost a quarter way through the season.

The Mavericks are looking for their second four-game win streak of the season as they take on the Los Angeles Lakers for the second time this season. A LeBron James free throw narrowly pushed the Lakers past the Mavericks, 114-113, earlier in the season. Luka Doncic’s fourth quarter heroics almost put the game into overtime, but Wesley Matthews committed an uncharacteristic blunder fouling James some 35 feet from the basket with no fouls to give.

After more than a month of play, these two teams are playing completely different basketball, so here’s what to watch for.

Mavericks’ defense

In the 11 games since the Mavericks and Lakers last faced off, Dallas has put the clamps on opponents on the defensive end. Since that game, the team’s 104.1 defensive rating has ranked fourth best in the NBA. Part of that defensive turnaround stems from the Mavericks defending the three-point line. In the first matchup the Lakers torched Dallas and shot 58 percent from three. Since then the Mavericks have allowed opponents to shoot a league-best 29 percent from three. This could play right into Dallas’ favor as the Lakers are a bottom ten team in shooting from deep.

Start strong

These two teams played each other fairly even earlier this season. Both teams shot 50 percent. The Mavericks only out rebounded the Lakers by three. The Mavericks notched only one more assist. The Lakers turned it over only three fewer times. But what doomed the Mavericks was a dreadful first quarter. The Lakers raced out of the gates to a 38-21 lead and planted a haymaker on the Mavericks that took the team everything it had to claw back. Sticking with that theme, since that game Dallas is allowing opponents only 26 first-quarter points, which is sixth best in the league.

Turnover battle

It wasn’t a slow grind, but the Mavericks have finally started taking care of the basketball. While the team is still committing 16.6 turnovers per game for the season, in the last five games Dallas is only coughing up the rock 13 times per night. Both the Mavericks and Lakers are careless with the ball, so whichever unit can limit those giveaways could grab a sizable advantage with a few extra possessions.

How to watch

The game tips off at 9:30 CT and can be watched on Fox Sports Southwest or NBA League Pass.