The Dallas Mavericks (32-22) play host to the Sacramento Kings (21-32) at the American Airlines Center tonight, in the team’s final game before the NBA All-Star break. Having an issue with all range of opponents at home, the Mavericks look to head in to the break on a positive note, after a tough two months of basketball.
It was in their first meeting with the Kings back on December 8 — a game they lost 110-106 — that kicked-off a roller coast stretch of basketball. The Mavericks battled injury to the majority of their starting lineup (losing Dwight Powell for the season), including multi-game absences from both Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. The Mavericks went 16-16 from that game to today.
There is a bright spot heading into the night though, where reports yesterday indicate it’s probable the Mavericks will have Doncic back, who missed the last six games after re-spraining his ankle in practice. With that in mind, this is what we’re watching for in tonight’s game.
Luck be a Luka tonight
It’s clear Doncic is itching to be back on the floor to help his team (and to be ready to participate in a variety of All-Star activities). To the team’s credit they have gone .500 in the 10 games Luka has missed this season. Considering his usage on a nightly basis, the Mavericks have managed to stay afloat, with Kristaps Porzingis and a cast of characters showing up on any given night.
Doncic has liked his matchups against the Kings this season, averaging 26 points, 11 rebounds and 12.5 assists in the two meetings (the Mavericks won the second game 127-123). Nothing is so dire right now for the Mavericks that they should rush to thrust all the responsibility back onto Doncic, but it will certainly be nice to see Luka running the show tonight.
It’s hyphenated name SZN in Dallas as the Mavericks officially signed former Charlotte Hornets forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist at the start of the week. MKG was at practice Tuesday, and according to a report from Dallas Morning News’ Callie Caplan, should be in uniform tonight (though unclear if he’ll see playing time). His offense might be suspect, with one of the strangest shooting strokes league-wide. But that’s not why Carlisle and Mark Cuban were interested in adding him.
Seen as a versatile defender, MKG should be able to guard nearly every position. There are obvious minutes that Kidd-Gilchrist should be able to earn, after spending nearly eight full seasons with the Hornets (he was drafted by the then Charlotte Bobcats second overall in 2012).
The 26 year old forward has played mostly power forward the last two seasons, and it shouldn’t be surprising if he has opportunity at some point to start in the frontcourt alongside Porzingis. But for now, the Mavericks badly need help from bench forwards. From the start of the season until December 7 the Mavericks had a Defensive Rating of 107, good for 13th in the league. From that point until today they have a rating of 113.4, dropping them to 26th. Perhaps we’ll get a preview of his defensive ability if Carlisle needs a boost off the bench tonight.
Shutting down shooters
In the first matchup the Mavericks were absolutely torched by Nemanja Bjelica and Buddy Hield, who combined for 56 points while going of 9-of-13 from three. The Mavericks had zero answers, in what felt like foreshadowing for the soon to come defensive drop-off. A lot of the trouble is due to a lack of communication on switches, and now making shooters uncomfortable around the perimeter.
The Mavericks grabbed the win in round two, though they still gave up to the trio of Hield, Harrison Barnes, and De’Aaron Fox. The difference in those games is Hield and Bjelica went 4-of-15 from deep. The Mavericks win games with their offense, but they are hands down at their best when they play solid and scrappy team defense.
The Kings have four shooters in Bjelica, Hield, Barnes and Bogdan Bogdanovic that are hitting between 36 and 45 percent from deep. For the Mavericks to grab the win before the break, they need to shut down Sacramento’s shooters.
How to watch
Tip-off is set for 7:30 CT and can be watched on FSSW.