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3 things to watch for when the Mavericks visit the Warriors

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The Dallas Mavericks face another tough road test Saturday night, as they try to break free of a four game losing streak.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Mavericks (15-15), in the midst of a tough four game losing skid, head to the Bay Area to face the Golden State Warriors (21-11). It’s a matchup that feels a little different than the last time they met. Previously clashing in mid-November at home, the Mavericks were in the middle of what would become quite a month of basketball, going 13-4 from early November to just before the losing streak — the Mavs beat the Warriors 112-109. Perhaps the giant asterisk to make note of there is the Warriors being without both Steph Curry and Draymond Green.

This time around the Mavericks look to be without starting point guard Dennis Smith Jr., who has missed seven games recently, battling a wrist injury. No night is truly easy in the Western conference, still, the Mavericks are in the thick of a lethal road trip across the west coast in what has turned out to be a stacked December schedule.

Here’s what we’re watching for in tonight’s tilt:

The Bleak Midwinter...in the paint

The Mavericks, who have gone .500 in December, have a paint problem. In October and November the Mavericks were giving up 44.8 points in the paint, good for fifth in the league. But in December, the Mavericks have given little resistance in the lane, giving up 51.2 points in the paint per game in their 10 matchups — dropping them all the way to 23rd in the league.

The Mavericks have done a good job limiting second chance baskets, sixth in the league allowing 12 points per game. But let’s be honest, that might just be because no opponent has needed a second chance. The defense just isn’t clicking like it was in November, and there are a few factors here. First, the level opponent (and really, healthy opponents) they have faced has gone up. They also are working Dirk Nowitzki back in to play, impacting the big man rotation. But the eye test also says this just has to do with effort, angles and communication.

The Warriors are last in the league in points in the paint, scoring 39.8 per game. That’s mostly due to their lethal outside shooting. But make no mistake, they pass the ball so well, and exploit weaknesses well enough that if the Mavs give it to them, they’ll feast.

Luka Doncic is made of magic

Dennis Smith Jr. has sat out seven of the last eight, appearing once against the Phoenix Suns. In that eight game stretch Doncic has assumed a wider playmaking role, and has seen an uptick pretty much across the board in his production. Averaging 19.5 points, 6.6 rebounds and 6.8 assists in those eight games, Luka is slowly shouldering a larger workload for Rick Carlisle. His three point shooting is down (shooting 30 percent, down from 36 on the season), but there are long stretches of many games where you see the 19 year old absolutely take over.

Most recently Thursday night on the road against the Clippers. The third quarter belonged to Doncic. Playing nearly 11 minutes of the quarter Doncic put in 14 points, three offensive rebounds, two assists and two steals. He simply abused a few quality Clippers defenders off the high screen, displaying a patience few 19 year olds possess.

In their first meeting Doncic had 24 points, nine rebounds and four assists in the win. Every game is must-see when it comes to the rookie, but this will be especially intriguing as he plays at Oracle Arena for the first time.

Road Blues, good news?

It is well documented that the Mavs have not been good on the road this season, going 2-12 with their wins coming against the awful Bulls and the struggling Rockets. Facing the Warriors, then closing out the month with road games against the Blazers, Pelicans and Thunder is not ideal. Golden State (13-3 at Oracle this season) doesn’t give away too many clues on how to beat them in the bay, having lost to three of the best teams in the league in the Bucks, Thunder, and Raptors.

Many opponent statistical categories look identical in their wins and losses. Two small spikes come in opponent rebounding and free throw attempts. Different from years past, rebounding is one area the team is excelling. Coming in at ninth in offensive rebounding percentage (29.2), fourth in defensive rebounding percentage (74.6), and sixth in overall rebounding percentage (51.8), the Mavs are doing work on the glass. If we’re looking for a silver lining going in to this matchup, perhaps it’s in the Mavericks keeping the Warriors off the glass that keeps them in this one.

Also worth noting here: Doncic, who is averaging around five free throw attempts per game, is averaging 11 free throw attempts over the last five games. These are small areas of focus, but maybe it’s enough for the Mavericks to stay close in this one and steal a win.

How to watch

Tip off is set for 7:30 CT, and can be watched on FSSW, the Fox Sports Go app, or NBA LeagePass.