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3 things to watch as the Mavericks head to Cleveland

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The Mavericks head to Cleveland without J.J. Barea to take on a a surging LeBron James and the Cavaliers.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Dallas Mavericks Andrew Dieb-USA TODAY Sports

After a tough loss to the visiting Minnesota Timberwolves, the Dallas Mavericks (23-53) head to Cleveland to take on LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers (46-30). The last time these teams met back in November, the Cavs took the match on the strength of Kevin Love’s 29 points and 15 rebounds, despite the Mavericks’ never-say-die efforts.

But the Cavaliers team facing the Mavericks tonight looks completely different following some wild trade deadline maneuverings in Cleveland. So what can we expect to see tonight?

A new(-ish) roster

The Cavaliers made the biggest (or at least the most) moves of this year’s always (okay, sometimes) exciting trade deadline. Back in February, the team waved goodbye to former Maverick Jae Crowder, along with Channing Frye, Derrick Rose, Iman Shumpert, Dwyane Wade, and, most crucially, Isaiah Thomas.

The Cavs brought in George Hill to replace Thomas, plus Jordan Clarkson, Rodney Hood, and Larry Nance Jr. And while the changes have resulted in a significantly better record (Cleveland had a .585 record before the trade deadline and has maintained a .652 record since), it hasn’t been quite enough to improve the team’s standing in the East. Toronto and Boston have dominated, despite LeBron’s late-season push that has led the Cavs to win seven of their eight games over the last two weeks, including a victory over the Raptors.

The Cavs are just half a game above the fourth-place Seventy Sixers and a game away from losing home-court advantage in the first round. Expect LeBron to continue his quest tonight against the Mavericks.

Do the Mavericks have an answer for LeBron on defense?

Lol, just kidding. The Mavericks obviously do not have an obvious way to slow down LeBron James, especially not when he’s on a playoff mission. It doesn’t help that the Mavs are missing Salah Mejri, one of their most effective rim protectors.

The team will also be without J.J. Barea again, who’s missing both games this weekend for personal reasons:

What does tonight’s game mean for the team?

The Mavericks’ season has reached the point of meaninglessness where a veteran contributors like Barea can be listed as missing the game for unspecified “personal” reasons without anyone really wanting to ask too many questions. But there’s no giving up on the season in the content game so here we are.

If you insist on something more specific, the Mavericks are still battling the usual suspects for a shot at improving their odds of a top-five pick. The two teams (if not the players) may well be in agreement on the most desirable outcome of tonight’s game.

How to watch

Tonight’s game tips off early at 5:00pm Central and can be seen on Fox Sports Southwest locally or on NBATV nationally.