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3 things to watch for as the Mavericks visit the Knicks

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Dallas will try to start the three-game road trip strong in their lone trip to Madison Square Garden.

NBA: New York Knicks at Dallas Mavericks Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Mavericks (22-27) are looking to avenge the early season loss to the New York Knicks (10-39) as they travel play their only game this season at the basketball mecca.

The Mavericks and Knicks clashed in the ninth game of the season, and New York rode a strong third quarter, outscoring Dallas by 15 points, en route to a 118-106 victory. Dennis Smith Jr. and Alonzo Trier both recorded a game-high 23 points, but the Mavericks suffered a sixth straight loss even though the Knicks shot just 24 percent from deep.

The two squads have gone on completely different trajectories since the early season tilt, but here’s what to watch for tonight.

One debut, one final act?

There are two storylines playing out when the Mavericks take on the Knicks at Madison Square Garden as Luka Doncic makes his debut and Dirk Nowitzki plays his potential swan song in Madison Square Garden.

Doncic is in the midst of a historic rookie season, and tonight he gets the opportunity to add on to his legend under the bright lights of The Garden. The runaway Rookie of the Year is on a tear in his last five games averaging 26 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists while getting to the free throw line nearly nine times per game. He also became the first player in NBA history to collect multiple triple doubles before his 20th birthday when he posted a 35 point, 12 rebound, 10 assist stat line Sunday against the Toronto Raptors.

Nowitzki, on the other hand, is playing just 10 minutes per night, scoring nearly four points per game but drawing the affections of fans across the league. Since Nowitzki’s return every Mavericks’ road game includes opposing fans clamoring for the NBA icon to hoist shots in hopes of seeing the legend score points in their arena for what could be the final time. While Nowitzki has struggled since his return from injury, so let’s hope the basketball gods bless what could be Dirk’s final game at MSG.

Trips to the charity stripe

The good news is the Mavericks are one of the league’s elite in getting to the free throw line. Led by Doncic’s 6.3 attempts per game, Dallas shoots the third most freebies in the entire NBA. The bad news is the Mavericks’ 74 percent success rate at the line is only the 24th best mark in the league.

The Dallas Morning News’ Brad Townsend expanded on this thorn in the Mavericks’ side here, but Sunday night’s loss to the Toronto Raptors was the most recent example. Dallas missed 11 of their 34 attempts in a game they lost by three. Against the San Antonio Spurs January 16, the Mavericks missed four free throws in a game they lost by four. And against the Golden State Warriors the game before, Dallas missed seven attempts in a game they lost by five. The Mavericks are in no position to not take advantage of free points, so this is a problem that needs to be addressed immediately.

Harrison Barnes’ horrible January

Barnes is rounding out one of the worst month’s in recent memory. Since the turn of the calendar year, Barnes is shooting a paltry 33 percent from the field and 32 percent from deep while scoring 15 points per game. It’s a stark contrast from earlier this season. Take the month of December for example when Barnes scored 19 points per game while shooting 44 percent from the field, including 43 percent from deep. If the Mavericks want to make any ground in the Western Conference they’ll need Barnes to start hitting shots.

How to watch

The game tips off at 6:30 CT and can be watched on Fox Sports Southwest or NBA League Pass.