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3 things to watch for when the Mavericks visit the Raptors

The Mavericks will look to carry the momentum from an impressive road win in Philadelphia to Toronto, as they face the defending champs.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Dallas Mavericks Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The ever-surprising Dallas Mavericks (19-9) play their final game before Christmas by making a visit north to the Toronto Raptors (20-8). This is the second matchup between these teams, after the Mavericks won the first 110-102 in Dallas.

This the final stop on a five game stretch that looked daunting on paper, made worse by the loss of Luka Doncic, where the Mavericks face the five best teams in the Eastern Conference. But the Mavericks have answered the call thus far going a solid 2-2, with opportunity to win in all four.

There may be plenty of Cowboy-eyes back in Philly, but here’s what we’ll keep our eye on in today’s afternoon battle:

Injury bug

The Mavericks are still without superstar Luka Doncic, though he appears to be making progress. Before Friday night’s game in Philadelphia ESPN showed footage of Doncic doing full court sprints in shootaround. While he’s on the mend, Saturday night’s official injury report also noted both Delon Wright and Seth Curry as ‘Probable’. Both players are still recovering from minor injuries, and played key roles in the against the 76ers.

But the Mavericks aren’t the only ones battling injury. The Toronto Raptors list Stanley Johnson as well as key players Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol, Norman Powell and Matt Thomas all as ‘Out’. The Mavericks caught the Raptors without Kyle Lowry in their first go-around.

While the Mavericks should have the upper-hand here, both teams will have to rely on their depth. And the defending champs won’t just step aside — they’re a solid 12-3 at home.

Porzingis turns up a notch

There have been polarizing takes about Kristaps Porzingis’ game while he still eases himself back into play, but there’s no denying the step up he’s had of late. It could have been difficult for the deep-shooting big man to take on more responsibility in Doncic’s absence, or to resort back to bad tendencies. Instead, he’s upping his game across the board.

With five straight games of at least 20 points, his four games without his running mate have been undeniably impressive: 23 points, 14 rebounds, 2.5 blocks while shooting 36 percent from three. Porzingis is locked in right now, finding rhythm with his shot without compromising any effort in his game.

KP has it a little easier with Siakam and Gasol both missing from the lineup, but it won’t just be smooth sailing. He’ll have to deal with the length and versatility of both OG Anunoby and Serge Ibaka. But if Porzingis can get going again on Sunday afternoon (he had 20 points and 15 rebounds in their first meeting), the Mavs may steal another key road victory.

Tim Hard-ly Can Miss Jr.

When the Mavericks hosted the Raptors back in the middle of November, Tim Hardaway Jr. wasn’t yet a starter and played just 19 minutes (four points, three assists, 0-of-4 from three). It was just two games later that THJ was thrust into a starting spot, and there’s been little looking back.

In 15 games as a starter Hardaway is averaging 17 points per game while shooting 43 percent from three on almost eight attempts per game. There were plenty of doubters that THJ could turn a corner (I was one of them) and he has shut us all up. Credit to Hardaway, and maybe special thanks to Rick Carlisle:

There have been some wild swings in production for Hardaway since Doncic has been gone, going 0-for-5 in one game while shooting 7-for-11 in the last. The Raptors may be shorthanded, but they still are an active defensive team and will have extra focus to disrupt Hardaway’s rhythm. But there’s no doubt the Mavericks will need his shooting.

How to Watch

Tip-off is set for 2:30 CT and can be watched on Fox Sports Southwest or NBA League Pass.