We’re five days into the New Year and our beloved Dallas Mavericks haven’t had the luxury of spending time in front of their home crowd at the American Airlines Center. It’s a pain felt by everyone. Luckily, that pain is lessened with the knowledge that the Mavericks have won on the road to start 2019. That’s something they only did twice this season before the calendar switched over. So, that’s good! The bad thing is that it may all be a mirage and tonight, the team faces another tough challenge in Philadelphia against the 76ers. Here’s what to watch for:
Jimmy Eat World
Friday, a Woj Bomb dropped stating that Jimmy Butler, who the Sixers acquired earlier this season, openly challenged head coach Brent Brown about his role in the team’s offense. This is the second time this season that Butler has seemingly feuded with his head coach. He was traded to Philadelphia after a very public spat with Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota.
Since joining the Sixers, Butler’s numbers are down across the board. He’s averaging 18 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and 1.9 steals. He’s also shooting 46.2 percent from the floor and 38.8 percent on 3-pointers.
Tonight will be the Sixers’ first game since news of the challenge broke. How Butler will play and whether his role will change is as yet unknown.
Jordan vs. Embiid
Joel Embiid is known as much for his on the court skills—he’s averaging 26.9 points, 13.6 rebounds, and 3.5 assists—as he is for his trash talk. He may have cut back on dissing opponents on social media, but he’s still dishing out digs on the court. Tonight, his target will be DeAndre Jordan.
Embiid poses a unique challenge for Jordan. His ability to knock down threes, albeit at a paltry 29.9 percent, will lure Jordan away from the basket. Even when he’s checked out, Jordan does his best work around the rim, watching opponents get easy looks and tracking down his next rebound (contract year, baby!). That said, Jordan is still a factor for the Mavericks defensively. He has the size and strength to challenge Embiid one-on-one. Even getting a hand in his face will go a long way. Embiid is the Sixers’ primary threat so stopping him is a must.
On the other side of the ball, Jordan has to get going offensively. His rim-rolling plays a huge role in what the Mavericks want to do offensively by sucking in defenses and opening up outside looks. These rolls are also effective in getting him to the line. Much has been made about Jordan’s improve free throw shooting this year, 70.5 percent, so it behooves the Mavs to put him in a position where he can rattle off a few free shots. It wouldn’t hurt if his trips to the line came at the expense of Embiid’s personal foul total.
While it’s expected that Jordan will be the Mavericks’ primary bulwark against Embiid, Maxi Kleber will likely also see his fair share of the loquacious Cameroonian.
Man or Machine
Harrison Barnes isn’t given his proper due. Be it in this digital space or in the chasm of Twitter. That’s fine, but no one can deny that he’s flat out balling right now. In last 10 games (prior to Friday night’s game against the Boston Celtics) Barnes is averaging 20 points and 3.8 rebounds. In that span, he’s hitting 46 percent of his shots and a whopping 45.6 percent from downtown. He seemingly can’t miss.
A lot has been made about the decline in Barnes’ contributions beyond scoring this season. It’s by design, though. The addition of Luka Doncic has lifted the burden of carrying the team off of Barnes’ shoulders. He doesn’t need to do it all anymore. Instead, he’s fit his game to what the team is asking of him. He’s done this time and again in his two and a half seasons in Dallas. It’s commendable. He just goes about his business with the same methodical approach to everything.
Keep scoring, Harry B.
Simmons vs. Doncic
Ben Simmons REALLY wanted to be Rookie of the Year last season. Luka Doncic doesn’t need a feud with Donovan Mitchell and an ad campaign to get people to notice him.
How to watch
7pm Central on FSSW or NBA League Pass