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3 things to watch for when the Mavericks and Pistons face-off

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Mavericks (21-26) host the Detroit Pistons (21-26) Friday night at the American Airlines Center. Two teams with identical records, but very different places in their respective standings: Dallas sits at 13th in the West and Detroit coming in at ninth in the Eastern Conference, 1.5 games out of the playoffs. ...oh to be in the East.

The Mavericks welcomed back starting guard Dennis Smith Jr. Tuesday night at home, after a six game absence where the Mavs went 2-4. They broke that four game losing streak in his return against the Los Angeles Clippers, DSJ going for 17 points, eight rebounds, four assists, and four turnovers in 37 minutes (his second highest minutes total all season).

With the Mavericks 4.5 games out from the eighth playoff spot they enter an important stretch before the all-star break, having six of their next ten games against teams currently with losing records. Those become must-win for the Mavericks if they want to stay playoff relevant entering the last third of the season.

And speaking of the all-star break, the starters for the NBA All-Star game that will be held in Charlotte next month were announced on TNT’s pregame show. Though Mavericks rookie Luka Doncic appeared second in fan voting for Western Conference front court players throughout the process (behind LeBron James), we learned he will not be a starter in the event. Fan votes count for 50 percent in determining the game’s starters. The other half is made up of media and player votes. The reserves, determined at a later date, are voted on by coaches.

Here’s what we’re watching for Friday night at the AAC:

The continued re-integration of Dennis Smith back into fold

Dallas had what can only be described as a weird win against the Clippers on Monday. Everyone’s statistical lines looked solid but there was very little flow to the game. Dennis Smith in particular had a strong box score, scoring 17, grabbing eight rebounds, and dishing out four assists. He also managed to turn the ball over four times.

The Maverick starting line up really doesn’t work and it may have more to do with Harrison Barnes and Wesley Matthews than the other three regular starters. If Smith can play with the energy he displayed Tuesday, he should be fine against an occasionally listless Pistons roster. In particular, keep an eye out for how often Dennis pushes after a make or a miss. He’s just so fast and sometimes that speed doesn’t get used enough.

Dirk Nowitzki from beyond the three point line

As reported yesterday, Dirk Nowitzki has been invited to participate in the three point contest this year at All-Star weekend. He’s also shooting an awful 26% from three on nearly three attempts per game.

At some point Dirk’s shooting will swing back around, after all shooting is not a skill one simply loses. He needs to see more minutes and work through some of these woes. He should see at least some floor time tonight and hopefully his shot starts to fall. Otherwise I wonder if he accepts the invitation.

Detroit Pistons guard play

At the outset of the Dennis Smith saga, the Detroit Pistons hovered in the background of conversations as a potential team in need of Smith’s play. Though they have a whopping five point guards on their depth chart, Reggie Jackson’s the current starter and he’s been... fine? It’s worth watching the quality of their guard play just in case talks heat up closer to the trade deadline.

How to Watch

The Mavs and Pistons will tip off at 7:30 p.m. CT and can be watched on FSSW, the Fox Sports Go app or NBA League Pass.