The Dallas Mavericks (20-24), who wrap up a dramatic week at home and are probably thankful for a short road trip escape, make their first stop in Indianapolis to face a strong Indiana Pacers (29-15) squad. The Mavericks could be without two of their starters — Dennis Smith Jr. remains away from the team, officially listed as battling illness, though the drama of the week suggests otherwise. Additionally, Wesley Matthews appears to be battling a wrist sprain.
The Mavericks have had a rocky last two weeks, and drama aside, are grasping at ways to stay competitive in a stacked Western Conference. The loss of veteran point guard J.J. Barea was a major blow, losing after giving up a large lead at home to a playoff team was a crusher on Wednesday, and suddenly the only listed point guard on the roster who has actually played minutes this season making the road trip is rookie Jalen Brunson. Playoff chances look a little more out of reach as each game goes by.
Still, with 38 games remaining, and the trade deadline still in front of them, the Mavericks are four games back from the eighth spot. Plus they still have the most exciting rookie in basketball. All is not lost.
Here’s what we’ll be watching for in tonight’s matchup:
This game will be featuring my own personal One Who Got Away in sharpshooter Doug McDermott, the 6-foot-8 bench wing that brought a monsoon of three pointers to the DFW Metroplex for 26 beautiful games last spring. Coming over in a three team trade that sent vet Devin Harris to Denver, the now 27 year old McDermott fit in perfectly with last year’s bench mob in Dallas (shooting 49 percent from deep).
Last summer McDermott, a restricted free agent for the Mavericks, signed an offer sheet with the Pacers for three years-$22 million. Dallas opted to not match and hoard cap space instead. You can point to McBuckets’ numbers this season in Indiana and declare he’s overpaid. Probably true. But the contract wasn’t so outrageous for someone who slotted in perfectly on your bench. Carlisle clicked with him, and unlocked peak McDermott.
Though you’re only playing around 17 minutes per game, Dougie sweet boy, know that there will be some of us watching from afar longing for a shooter of your stature for Luka Doncic to pass to in the corner.
A defensive battle
Though it hasn’t been Dallas’ calling card over the last few seasons, this game will feature two teams in the top 12 in the league in defensive rating. The Mavericks (12th at 108.4) will be tested by an elite defense in the Pacers (3rd at 104.1). Indiana is active, disrupting passing lanes and forcing turnovers (3rd in the league with nine steals per game).
If the Mavericks have an in to beating the Pacers though, it’s from the three point line. Indiana is allowing teams to shoot nearly 37 percent from deep, good for 24th in the NBA. The Mavericks have fared pretty well making opponents uncomfortable from the perimeter, limiting teams to shooting under 35 percent (9th in the league). The Mavs aren’t particularly lethal from long range, but they do like to hoist them up (4th in attempts). If they steal a win on the road tonight, it’ll be from three.
Our favorite rookie
We know we talk about Luka Doncic a lot, but he continues to find new ways to impress, rarely looking like a rookie in the league. And the month of January has been rather spectacular, playing his best basketball to date. Averaging 23.5 points, 7.9 rebounds and 5.5 assists over the last three weeks, Doncic is demanding control of every game. Never mind the Mavericks going 3-5 this month (we’ll also try to turn an eye from his 63 percent from the free throw line too). Luka is demonstrating pretty much everything you want in this stage of his career.
And just in case you were somehow doubting, take a look at NBAMath.com’s TPA Model (Total Points Added), among rookies this season:
Heading into games on Jan. 18, here's how all #NBA rookies have fared in TPA during the 2018-19 season: pic.twitter.com/quE59xAszo— NBA Math (@NBA_Math) January 18, 2019
So, yeah. We’re watching something special.
How to Watch
Tip off is set for 6 CT and can be watched on FSSW, the Fox Sports Go app, or NBA LeaguePass.