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3 things to watch for as the Mavericks face the Celtics

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Hayward is out.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

This is it. The Dallas Mavericks travel to Boston to face the Celtics. If you haven’t been keeping up with the Eastern Conference—and who can blame you, Jokic just smoked Embiid—you might not know that the Celtics are the top team in the East. Yup. They have a record of 7-1. So, what must the Mavericks do to knock off the top team in north of the Mason-Dixon? Let’s take a look:

Hayward

Gordon Hayward, arguably one of Boston’s best players, broke his hand recently. That’s a huge loss for the team. This season, he’s averaging 18.9 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 4.1 assists. He is also shooting 55.5 percent overall and 43.3 percent from deep. Are you kidding me? With Hayward out, the Mavericks are potentially dodging a buzzsaw. That doesn’t make the Celtics any easier to face, though. They’re the top East team for a reason.

Defense

We know the Mavericks’ defense is suspect. Extremely so. The Celtics, however, defense is their MO. Forget offense, because Boston is middling in that category despite Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum. You can’t score against the Celtics. Want to shoot a two? Good luck. A three? Maybe. This is a top-five defense. Dallas has a top-five offense. Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis will be a handful for Boston. It’s going to be up to the role players to step up like they did in Memphis. Seth Curry could be a major factor if Rick Carlisle lets him be the player and shooter we all know him to be.

On the Mavericks end, the team really needs to show that they can actually step up for more than a few plays. Carlisle talks about becoming a top-10 defense. We haven’t seen anything like that yet. In fact, what we’ve seen is a team that struggles to slow down bottom-feeders like the Orlando Magic and New York Knicks. Dallas has the bodies, employ them well and things will change for the better.

Luka Magic

Look, what more can we say about Doncic? He’s amazing. He’s in the MVP discussion. He takes too many poor step backs sometimes. It’s life. It’s Luka. Boston will throw everything they have at him. Tatum will guard him. Jaylen Brown will guard him. Some random guy you’ve never heard of will guard him. None of them will matter. Really, the only question will be how soon he logs yet another triple double. It’s going to happen.

Bonus!

Enes Kanter is questionable for tonight’s game. That’s unfortunate. However, you should become more familiar with his love of Halal food. Take a listen to this story from WGBH Boston.

How to watch

Tip off is at 6:30 p.m. Central on Fox Sports Southwest or NBA League Pass