The Dallas Mavericks (23-38) finish up a quick three game road trip Saturday night in Cleveland by facing the 11-win Cavaliers, a team deep in the thick of another tank race. This is there first meeting with the Cavs this season.
The Mavericks played their other stops on the trip in New York City (where they thumped the Knicks) on Wednesday night, then in Detroit Thursday (where they lost the lead late). But the real focus of the trip became the blockbuster trade that shook up the roster Thursday afternoon.
Here’s what we’ll be watching for before the Mavericks head home:
The new guys
The four new Mavericks were reportedly in Dallas Friday going through team physicals. It was also determined that no one would be making the trip to Cleveland to join the team, which means the Mavericks will be shorthanded like they were in Detroit, where they played with ten uniformed players (Doncic sat out with an ankle injury). Even then, Rick Carlisle only played nine, opting to not give time to two-way guard Daryl Macon who dressed for the game.
The Mavs fared decently in Detroit with high volume from Harrison Barnes, and Devin Harris providing a lift off the bench. It’s nice opportunity in awkward circumstance for a handful of players who don’t always get much run, biding time til the roster is made whole again.
With a fortunate three full days off before their next game on Wednesday, at home against the Charlotte Hornets, Rick Carlisle and his staff will get a couple of practices in with new additions, where Carlisle will need to sort out who will take the three starting spots that have been vacated.
At the writing of this preview it’s been undetermined if Luka Doncic will remain out, as he nurses an ankle injury that Carlisle said occurred against the Toronto Raptors. Whether he plays or not, the Mavericks will probably not use him much, considering the opponent. We’re getting very close to the all-star break, but the Mavs must also be smart with their young centerpiece. And with Doncic participating in the all-star festivities, he won’t actually have much time off.
Thursday was only his second missed game in his rookie year, having proved pretty durable even if at times it looks like he takes a beating. The Mavericks certainly missed his playmaking against Detroit. He’s been on a tear of late, averaging 22 points, eight rebounds and 6.4 assists in the month of January. It was announced Friday that Doncic was awarded yet another Western Conference Rookie of the Month award.
Who takes advantage?
All nine players had a huge spike in minutes, above all their season averages. Dorian Finney-Smith, Maxi Kleber and Jalen Brunson in particular took on larger workloads. As the front office begins to sort through the aftermath of this trade, these three carry particularly interesting roles.
Jalen Brunson, who has spot-started previously in Dennis Smith Jr.’s absence, is locked in to his rookie contract. These games where he’s given extra time, and what could be extra opportunity the rest of this season, will be vitally important as he enters his first full summer as a pro. The Mavs figure to need another reliable ball handler in the starting lineup alongside Luka Doncic next season, and Brunson should be treating these games as auditions.
For fan favorites Dorian Finney-Smith and Maxi Kleber, their stakes are very clear. They enter this summer as restricted free agents, and will be looking for their second contracts in the league. It’s an important time for them to show they can be part of the core of this team in the future, and gain their own leverage to make as much money as possible.
Though this is just one game, and there is a lot of time for storylines to develop and play out, opportunities like this road trip has suddenly provides represents the rest of the season for these three players. It’s time for them to fully seize the moment.
How to watch
Tip off is set for 6:30 CT, and can be watched on FSSW, the Fox Sports Go app, or NBA LeaguePass.