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3 things to watch for when the Mavericks battle the Celtics

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Dallas catches Boston on a two-game skid but will be without Luka Doncic for the second straight game.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Boston Celtics Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

The Mavericks are coming off their biggest win in seasons after taking down the mighty Milwaukee Bucks on the road and will face off with the Boston Celtics for the second time this year.

In the first tilt, Dallas had a lead in the fourth until Kemba Walker hit a barrage of three pointers to push Boston over the top. He lead the Celtics with 29 points, while Luka Doncic paced Dallas with 34 points, six rebounds and nine assists. Kristaps Porzingis contributed only four points on 1-of-11 shooting.

The Mavericks are just 8-6 at home this season, while the Celtics are 7-6 on the road. Dallas proved Monday night they can hang with anyone no matter who is on the floor, so here’s what to watch for:

Slowing down the role players

Dallas had an interesting strategy Monday against Milwaukee, whether it was intentional or not. While Giannis Antetokounmpo detonated for 48 points, the role players like Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez failed to make an impact. The Mavericks used their depth to their advantage, and it might prove once again to be an effective tactic against the Celtics.

While it’s true Kemba Walker was a giant catalyst in the Celtics win over the Mavericks earlier this season, Jaylen Brown also chipped in 25, and Marcus Smart scored 17 while hitting four threes. Fortunately, Dallas was able to limit Jayson Tatum to only five points.

Top to bottom the Celtics aren’t as deep as the Mavericks, but without Luka Doncic, Dallas has fewer primary options than Boston. The Mavericks might be keen to focus on preventing Tatum and Brown from finding their flow at the expense of a big night from Walker.

Tim Hardaway Jr. bounce back

Thanks to big nights from Porzingis and Seth Curry Monday, Hardaway’s 1-for-10 clunker was largely overshadowed. And against the Pistons Thursday, the veteran gunner scored only two points and went 0-for-5 from deep. Realistically, the Mavericks can’t rely on another big game from Porzingis or another 26 point outburst from Curry, so Hardaway must step up and shoulder the scoring load in Doncic’s absence.

Hardaway has cooled off as of late, shooting only 42 percent from the field and 32 percent from three in December. But with the tough stretch of games against the Eastern Conference elite, Dallas needs quality play from Hardaway, starting tonight against Boston.

Turnovers

Tonight’s matchup features two of the NBA’s top three teams at protecting the ball. The Mavericks lead the league with only 12.8 turnovers per game, while Boston is third with 13.2. Both teams protect the ball making each possession that much more valuable. Both teams are top five in the league in limiting opponents points off turnovers, so don’t expect too many points directly from miscues. However, the team that can generate a few extra possessions (and ultimately, buckets) should be able to position itself closer to victory.

How to watch

The game tips off at 8:30 pm and can be watched on ESPN.