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3 things to watch for when the Mavericks clash with the Knicks

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It will be a charged atmosphere Thursday night as Kristaps Porzingis returns to Madison Square Garden

NBA: New York Knicks at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Mavericks (6-4) look to rebound from their first road loss to the Boston Celtics Monday, when they visit the New York Knicks (2-9) at Madison Square Garden. The Knicks, who beat the Mavericks at the American Airlines Center last week, are coming off two straight losses since that last meeting.

Much of the evening’s energy, in a nationally televised affair, will be focused on Kristaps Porzingis’ return to his first NBA home. It will be a charged atmosphere, and unique matchup with the teams having just met.

The Mavericks started the season 4-2, with close losses to good teams, but have gone 2-2 in the last week. Having one ugly win (agains the Magic) and one embarrassing loss (at home against the Knicks) in that short span may hint at the first team funk of the season, and adds some additional importance to tonight’s game. Here’s what we’ll be watching for tonight.

Response Matters

It’s been well tread and universally agreed that last week’s loss to the Knicks was not just embarrassing, but also unacceptable for a team like the Mavericks. While the team is much improved, and now look to have realistic playoff aspirations, the margin for error remains slim. Losses (especially home losses) can feel like they count as two when they come at the hand’s of a lottery team.

That alone, with the added emotion of a KP return to New York, makes this a must-win game. Dramatic? Yes. But it’s important to see the Mavericks with a quick response to early season frustration.

As this is the first team the Mavericks face for a second time, it’s also important to see what adjustments Rick Carlisle and the team make. Carlisle, known for his expert adjustment in a playoff series format, has a chance to shore up on gaps in the team’s performance last week. Look for the Mavs to have a strong answer.

Locking up the bigs

The headlining stat of the previous matchup is the New York Knicks hitting 14-of-28 threes. And while the Knicks are 13th in the league from deep (shooting just under 36 percent), the Mavericks simply cannot allow any team to be that comfortable around the perimeter.

But equally bad, the stable of Knicks forwards and big men feasted most of the night. Marcus Morris looked like a superstar (29 points, nine rebounds, 4-of-8 from three), Julius Randle did a little of everything (21 points, eight rebounds, four assists), and Bobby Portis dominated off the bench (14 points, 12 rebounds). The disparity at the three point line may have been the story, but this is really where the most adjustment is needed.

In the two games since, Rick Carlisle has opted for Maxi Kleber in the starting lineup in place of Dwight Powell. Powell, who missed early games due to injury, looks to still be rounding into form. But defense has never been his strong suit. And at times, he’s been exposed. Look for Kleber to play a key role in slowing this rotation down.

A Unicorn’s return

While there will be plenty to watch in tonight’s game, it really will be fascinating to see how Kristaps Porzingis plays in his return to MSG. It was a rocky, often dramatic, ending to his time in a headlining churning city. And KP will surely be locked in and emotionally charged.

Though the band-aid has in some ways been ripped off by facing them already this season, this will be a different story. Porzingis had a solid showing in the first matchup, with a season-high 28 points, nine rebounds and five blocks, though he did foul out.

Since that game Porzingis has sat out in the second game in a back-to-back, then only played 20 minutes against the Celtics in his worst showing of the season (plus foul trouble again). In some ways, Porzingis should be well-rested, but it’s possible it may take some time to find a rhythm.

How to Watch

Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. Central and can be watched on TNT.