The Dallas Mavericks (6-5) are reeling from a rough week of basketball, that saw losses to not just the Boston Celtics, but the lottery-bound New York Knicks. Twice. There’s no time to dwell, as the Mavericks find themselves back home playing host to the defending champion Toronto Raptors (8-3).
The Mavericks are 3-7 in their last 10 matchups with the Raptors, but will be desperately looking to get back on track Saturday night. This Toronto team may be without last year’s Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard (and running mate Danny Green), but they still have plenty of depth and length and have looked solid early in the season. The Mavericks have caught a slight break though — the Raptors will be without Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka.
Here’s what we’ll be watching for in tonight’s battle.
The three-point storyline
There have been moments this season (like Thursday’s game at Madison Square Garden) where it looks like the Mavericks can do nothing to stop opponents at the three point line. While the Mavericks aren’t at the bottom of the league in opponent three-point percentage, allowing teams to shoot 36 percent from deep isn’t going to cut it. Especially when facing teams that already shoot the moneyball well.
Enter the Toronto Raptors, a team connecting on 40 percent of their attempts, 2nd in the league in both shooting percentage and percentage of team points from the three-point line. They will be without Lowry yes, but the rest of the starting five is hitting 43 percent of their threes.
The Mavericks are 18th in both team three-point percentage, and opponent three-point percentage. It’s often what is holding this team back. Whether it be secondary players missing off Luka Doncic’s slick passes, or not disrupting an opponent’s shooting rhythm, the Mavericks simply don’t have consistent answers from deep. For the Mavericks to win tonight, it starts at both three-point lines.
One Man Show
Luka Doncic currently ranks fifth in the NBA in usage rate, though for long stretches watching a Mavericks game it feels like no one on the planet is asked to do more with a basketball. When the Mavericks are at their most stagnant, Luka is not just running the offense, he’s often fending a double or triple team or weighed with the task of finding an inconsistent shooter along the perimeter or heaving another stepback three.
There have been flashes early this season of what this Mavericks team can look like when everything is clicking. There are streaky rhythm shooters on the roster, and if they find that rhythm together they often look unstoppable.
The bottom line is Doncic can’t do it alone. Especially as Kristaps Porzingis continues his journey back from injury. It’s going to take a ten man effort most nights for the Mavericks to beat playoff teams like the Raptors.
Solidifying the starters
Much has been made about the Rick Carlisle opting for nearly a different starting lineup every night. It can’t be a sustainable model for a variety of reasons, and eventually Carlisle will need to opt for stability.
And the spot that may be worth monitoring the closest is between Maxi Kleber and Dwight Powell. Carlisle has always been fond of the effort and energy of Powell, having built the player he is today nearly from the ground up. And while he’s been a valuable player the last several seasons, his play has been wildly consistent early.
Perhaps it’s a debate on philosophy, whether you want the vertical spacing of Powell or the three-point shooting and defense of Maxi Kleber. The Mavericks will have their hands full with a Raptors front line of Marc Gasol, OG Anunoby and return breakout candidate (breakout breakout candidate?) Pascal Siakam. No matter the team, Kristaps Porzingis can’t hold down the post defensively on his own, and Kleber’s smart versatile play to this point in the season should earn him the job.
How to watch
Tip-off is set for 7:30 CT, and can be watched on FSSW.