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3 things to watch for as the Mavericks host the Kings

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The Mavericks return home and try to shake off the worst loss of the season on Thursday night.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Sacramento Kings Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Mavericks (15-12) are coming off an embarrassing loss to the lowly Phoenix Suns as they look to right the ship against the young, talented and downright good Sacramento Kings (15-13).

Fortunately for the Mavericks this game will be played in the safe harbors of the American Airlines Center where Dallas is 13-2. The 13 wins at home is the second most in the entire NBA behind only the Philadelphia 76ers 14 victories.

It’s the first matchup of these two teams that picked in the top five in the NBA draft. The Kings opted to go with Marvin Bagley over Luka Doncic, which puzzled much of the NBA community, but the plan has started to develop in Sacramento regardless. The Kings have been one of the best storylines in the NBA this season and are on pace to win the franchise’s most games since the 2005-06 season.

The Mavericks will have their hands full tonight, so here is what to watch for:

Slowing down the Kings’ backcourt

If you’ve failed to keep up with the Kings this season then you probably don’t realize how much the Kings’ backcourt has blossomed. De’Aaron Fox has taken a gigantic leap from his rookie to his sophomore season. The Kentucky product is averaging 18 points and seven assists while shooting 47 percent from the field and 40 percent from behind the arc. The speedy guard is a nightmare in the open floor causing headaches with his quickness, length and command of the game.

Fox’s running mate, Buddy Hield, has also taken a step in his second full season in Sacramento. The 25-year-old is averaging in points (18.9), rebounds (5.2) and assists (2.5) while shooting 43 percent from three for the second straight season. Arguably the Kings two best players, these guys make Sacramento go, and the Mavericks must slow them down to win the game.

Dallas needs to control the pace

The Kings’ 115.6 points per game are the fifth most in the NBA behind some juggernauts like the Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors. This may be a bit of a hot take, but the Kings are good at putting the ball in the hoop. It’s clear the Kings want to outscore teams, and they are pretty successful at doing it. Maybe the most remarkable aspect of this season for the Kings is they are playing at a blistering pace of 105.23. Last season the Kings pace was 95.59! Basically, Dave Joerger has handed the keys to Fox and let him run.

It’s been a successful strategy and a big reason why the Kings are still competitive 28 games into the season. Sacramento is scoring 22.2 fast break points per game which is the best mark in the league. Additionally, 19.2 percent of the Kings’ points come on the break. Dallas appears to have the personnel to match the Kings’ pace, but I wouldn’t expect them to try tonight. The Mavericks will want to force the Kings to play 24 seconds of good defense and play methodical, half-court offense on the other end.

Yogi-mania returns

Yogi Ferrell’s departure from Dallas was peculiar last offseason. He reportedly agreed to a two-year, $5.3 million deal, but later changed his mind to sign a two-year, $6.2 million deal with the Kings. The deciding factor according to Ferrell was the Kings’ style of play.

“I see the explosive potential from a starving young group that wants to open the floor up with more shooting and play with speed and stats,” Ferrell told Yahoo Sports.

Looking back it’s hard to argue with that decision, but Ferrell is playing only 12.5 minutes per game compared to 27.8 minutes per game in Dallas last season. His per game averages are down significantly across the board, though he’s still producing when called upon as evident by his per-36 averages. It’s somewhat of a sad development after Ferrell burst onto the scene in Dallas and appeared to be on his way to a long future with the organization that gave him his shot. But basketball is a business and there are no hard feelings. So, welcome back Yogi.

How to watch

The game tips off earlier than usual at 6pm CT and can be watched on Fox Sports Southwest and NBA League Pass.