The Dallas Mavericks (11-10) welcome the Portland Trail Blazers (13-10) to the American Airlines Center Tuesday night, their first matchup of the season. The Mavericks, winners of nine of their last 12 games, are looking to follow up their win on Sunday night when they fought a tight, heated battle against the co-leaders in the West in the Los Angeles Clippers. It was an eventful night that saw Dennis Smith Jr. lose a tooth, Patrick Beverley get ejected, and DSJ block Tobias Harris’ shot and hit free throws to win seal the game.
The Blazers, who have lost five of their last six, are fighting through a slump after having a hot start to the season. Here’s what to watch for in tonight’s matchup:
The return of Wonder Boy
After sitting out Sunday for the Clippers game with a hip strain, Doncic looks to be making a return to the lineup. The injury, which he sustained against the Los Angeles Lakers last week, was never believed to be serious.
Per Rick Carlisle, Luka Doncic (hip) is much improved and looks like a good chance he returns Tuesday against Blazers after missing Sunday vs. Clips. Maxi Kleber a little less certain with right knee soreness. Dennis Smith Jr. getting a root canal today but should be fine Tuesday— Eddie Sefko (@ESefko) December 3, 2018
Luka Doncic, who was named Western Conference Rookie of the Month Monday, sat out his first game of the season on Sunday. But even from the sideline his impact was palpable.
In his last ten games, Doncic is averaging 17 points, six rebounds and four assists, while shooting 38 percent from three. While he likely won’t be matched up opposite of them, it’ll be his first chance to face Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. He will have to deal with the defense of former Maverick Al-Farouq Aminu, who will try to use his length and athleticism to disrupt the rookie’s game.
D-ennis Smith Jr.
Though his calling card up to this point in his young career hasn’t been defense, Dennis Smith Jr. has found new energy and assertiveness as a perimeter defender. Over his last ten games, DSJ is averaging nearly a block and 1.5 steals. Those aren’t numbers that will notch a defensive award, but there’s been a noticeable change in his level of effort and his will to compete on that end of the floor. That effort has been the cause of some winning plays of late, something Rick Carlisle is taking notice of:
“As time goes on and this team gets more invested in each other and winning everybody is taking on our identity as defense first team and Dennis is a great example of that. He’s one of the leaders of the team too.”
DSJ will have his hands full along the perimeter tonight, tasked with slowing down two lethal guards in Lillard and McCollum. On the other end, DSJ fared pretty well against Portland, averaging 19 points, six rebounds and seven assists.
As mentioned before, former Maverick Al-Farouq Aminu continues to start at small forward for the Blazers, a role he has played for most of his time in Portland. Add to that Seth Curry, who spent time over the last two seasons in Dallas, who is playing a small role off the bench. Aminu has had a strong season for the Blazers, filling the stat sheet as he did in his one season in Dallas. Curry is shooting nearly 45 percent from deep this year, though on a small sample size.
Each playing single seasons in Dallas, they both came in as reclamation projects in their young careers. Rick Carlisle and the Mavericks, as they’ve done time and again, tapped in to their potential and showed what both are capable of. These are two great examples of the Mavs’ ability to utilize players like this, and then decide to let them move on due to money reasons or personnel decisions.
Dirk please come back soon.
Dirk just dunked during a 3-on-3 game with Luka Doncic half heartedly trying to block him, and yelled out: “Give me this young burger.”— Tim Cato (@tim_cato) December 3, 2018
How to Watch
Tip off is set for 7:30 CT, and can be watched on FSSW, the Fox Sports Go app, or NBA League Pass.