The Dallas Mavericks (27-41) are back home to face the Cleveland Cavaliers (17-52) tonight, a test for two teams sitting near the bottom of the league standings. For the Cavs, a team that has been climbing an uphill battle all season, has gone 6-9 in their last 15 games. While the Mavericks, a team on one of the more unique nosedives in recent memory, are 2-13 in the same stretch.
Call it development opportunity, call it a tank-off, call it whatever you’d like, these two will do battle Saturday night during the final stretch where every team is staring at the standings — top or bottom.
Here’s what to watch in tonight’s matchup:
Brunson taking off
Rookie guard Jalen Brunson has been impressive since the Mavericks blew up the team and traded four starters, but he’s been on especially impressive stretch over the last week. In four contests, averaging 35 minutes, he’s posting 23 points, five rebounds and five assists while shooting 42 percent from three per game (and 14-of-14 from the free throw line).
There was praise all last summer from the coaching staff and front office about the potential for Brunson. And while the Mavericks continue to lose, he’s showing signs of a long term role in Dallas. He still most likely fits as a first guard off the bench next season for the Mavericks. But if the front office can’t lock down major pieces this summer in the draft or free agency, Brunson may quietly make a case to start next season.
Doncic carrying the weight
Night after night Luka Doncic provides highlights and heroic plays that few rookies can consistently pull off. But he’s had a couple plays recently that have also left him a little banged up. Add to that the weight of loss after loss, it might be smart for the Mavericks to help the future Rookie of the Year take his foot off the gas a little.
That may mean sitting for a night, or it may mean less minutes per game, but an opportunity to breathe a little and clear his mind. You can see the toll the end of the season is taking on him. He strained his knee against the Houston Rockets, that may have left him less than 100 percent for the matchup against the San Antonio Spurs. Following that, Doncic heroically dunked the Mavs back into the lead late against the Denver Nuggets (which may have hurt his hand), only to lose the game after his missed free throw and Nikola Jokic’s clutch runner at the buzzer.
Whether Luka’s free throw issues are all mental, or if there’s some physical fatigue is in play is unclear. But it might be wise for the Rick Carlisle to ease the load the superstar takes on down the stretch. He isn’t listed on today’s injury report, so expect him to play tonight.
Dirk getting closer
Perhaps the most important storyline in the final 14 games for the Mavericks is Dirk’s path an the NBA All-Time Scoring list. Before tonight’s game he’s 18 points from passing Wilt Chamberlain for sixth on the career list. Unless something drastic happens, it’s more a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if’ Dirk Nowitzki achieves that milestone.
For all the home fans though, they’ll need it to happen quickly. The Mavericks play tonight at American Airlines Center, then again at home on Monday against the New Orleans Pelicans. After that they’ll go on a three-game west coast road trip. So expect Dirk to be gunning tonight and Monday so he can celebrate a pretty special moment with the home fans.
How to Watch
Tip off is set for 7:30 CT and can be watched on FSSW or NBA League Pass.