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3 things to look for as the Mavericks visit the Kings’ Court

Luka and the Mavs head out to Sacramento to remind Vlade Divac what he missed out on.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Dallas Mavericks
Dallas protecting the paint against Philly
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Dallas heads off to Sacramento this evening, and the Mavs look to gain some momentum on the road before they return home for two tough games against the Blazers and the Clippers.

The Mavericks have been struggling lately without the dominant presence of Kristaps Porzingis with recent losses to the Lakers, Thunder, and the Hornets. The Latvian big man has been out since December 29th, when the Mavs faced off against the Lakers. As of this writing, we don’t know if Porzingis plays tonight, but he was listed as questionable vs. the Warriors and seems like he may in fact see the court tonight.

Here’s what to watch for in Wednesday’s match-up against the Kings.

Protect the paint and put an emphasis on rebounding

The Mavs have really missed Porzingis’ 7”6-inch wingspan on the defensive end. From that heartbreaking final shot from Jokic, to all of the easy layups from LeBron this past Friday, Dallas desperately needs to find a solution to locking up the paint on defense.

In Porzingis’ absence, the Mavs have thrown out several different lineups that have included J.J. Barea for a three-game stretch and the dynamic duo of Maxi Kleber and Dwight Powell in the front court against the Philadelphia 76ers last Saturday night. Marvin Bagley III has been in and out as he’s struggled with injury this season leaving Richaun Holmes, Nemanja Bjelica, and Dwayne Dedmon to fill out the Kings’ front court. With 6”10 Holmes being their leading offensive rebounder averaging 8.5 total rebounds per game, look for the Mavericks to focus on putting a body on him and limit his second chance opportunities. Bagley III is expected to play tonight and after putting up 18 points and 6 rebounds last night after being out since December 26th, he clearly hasn’t missed a beat.

De’Aaron Fox has shot an impressive 48.1 percent in the Kings’ last ten games while only managing to shoot 30.8 percent from three, so Dallas needs to make keeping Fox out of the lane a point of emphasis. With a fitting name like Fox, I’d like to see Delon Wright get matched up with him to control that quick first step Fox possesses.

Of course, if Porzingis returns to the court tonight, which there has been some speculation he might, we’ll see if he solves these problems or needs a game to round into shape.

Keep an eye on Bjelica and limit three-point attempts

While the Kings are only an average three-point shooting team, they have multiple deadeye shooters including Buddy Hield (37 percent), Bogdan Bogdanovic (38.3 percent), Bjelica (43.8 percent), and Trevor Ariza (35.3 percent). Also noteworthy is former Maverick, Harrison Barnes who is shooting 35.1 percent on four attempts per game.

The last time the Mavericks took on the Kings, Bjelica had 30 points after coming out hot and putting up 12 in the first quarter. Hield also had an impressive 26 points in that game and with him shooting 41.6 percent on 18 field goal attempts per game, expect Rick to throw Finney-Smith or Hardaway Jr. on him to chase him around all game.

Keep the turnovers to a minimum

In the month of December, Dallas went 9-6 with key wins over the Lakers, Bucks, and 76ers- all of which were away games. Dallas is currently tied with Orlando and Indiana for fewest turnovers committed per game, which is a stat Carlisle is surely proud of.

In the last five games, Dallas has had some trouble on the offensive end without KP. They seem to find themselves struggling to get going, relying on too many one-on-one situations. When Porzingis is out there, Dallas has the ability to stretch the floor with him being on the perimeter, allowing for Luka to slice and dice down the lane. Getting the other half of Dallas’ duo back on the court will be a huge help on the offensive and defensive end. The Mavs will move back to their solid lineup of Doncic, Hardaway Jr., Finney-Smith, Porzingis, and Powell. Mavs fans will be thrilled to see their team who currently holds the NBA’s highest offensive rating back at full strength as we head into the last half of the regular season.

How to watch

Get your coffee because it’s going to be a late one with tip-off at 9:00 p.m. Fox Sports Southwest will be broadcasting locally or you can watch through NBA League Pass.