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3 things to watch for when the Mavericks battle the Timberwolves

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Dallas looks to bounce back after a gut-wrenching loss Saturday to beat the lowly Timberwolves.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Dallas Mavericks Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off a controversial ending Saturday against the Atlanta Hawks, the Dallas Mavericks are looking to right the ship against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Dallas took the first tilt, 121-114, behind Dwight Powell’s 24 points while Luka Doncic largely struggled to shoot and take care of the ball. However, both clubs will look drastically different than the first time around.

First and foremost, Karl-Anthony Towns is sidelined with a fractured wrist, so the Mavericks won’t lose sleep scheming a game plan for him. In addition, the other top scorers in the first matchup, Robert Covington and Andrew Wiggins, are no longer Timberwolves.

The Mavericks should be gaining reinforcements with the returns of Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis after a one-game absence, but will likely be without the services of Jalen Brunson who suffered a dislocated shoulder during the first play of the game Saturday.

Here’s what to keep an eye on Monday:

Containing D’Angelo Russell

Russell is far and away the Timberwolves’ most lethal player with Towns out, and the Mavericks know all too well what Russell is capable of as he poured in 35 points against Dallas with the Warriors early in the season.

The Mavericks deployed an interesting strategy against Trae Young Saturday, electing to trap him off ball screens, but I don’t anticipate them treating Russell the same. While Russell can punish teams in his own right, he’s not near the passer and scorer Young is, so the Mavericks might stick Tim Hardaway Jr. or Dorian Finney-Smith on him and leave it at that. Whatever they do, contesting his shots and prohibiting him from finding open shooters like Malik Beasley will be crucial to putting the Timberwolves away.

Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis in sync

At long last it seems like the Mavericks’ two cornerstones are finally clicking, and it’s been thrilling to watch. Against Sacramento before the All-Star break, Porzingis and Doncic combined for 57 points, 20 rebounds and 13 assists, and against the Magic right after the break, the duo combined for 60 points, 25 rebounds and 13 assists. Dallas has successfully integrated Porzingis into more than a 7’3’’ shooting guard by giving him elbow touches, sprinkling in timely post ups, feeding him at the free throw line and most importantly, not deploying him solely as a spot-up shooter.

The Mavericks offense has been good, but this is the next evolution. Let’s see if they can keep the wheels moving tonight.

Miscellaneous notes

The Mavericks and Timberwolves are both top-three in the league in three-point attempts, hoisting 41 and 39.7 attempts respectively. However, Dallas shoots it at a 37 percent clip (5th best) while Minnesota only connects on 33 percent (29th best). However, since the blockbuster trade that sent Andrew Wiggins to Golden State and brought in Russell and Beasley, the Timberwolves have cashed in 41.7 percent of their 43.8 triples per game. Beasley has been instrumental, averaging 23 points per night while sooting 44 percent from deep. Both teams rank in the top five in percentage of points that come from triples.

Minnesota is excellent at getting to the free-throw line with a .279 free-throw attempt rate, which is 5th best in the NBA. On the flip side, Dallas generally plays clean and allows a mere .231 opponent free-throw rate, which is 6th best in the NBA.

How to watch

The game tips off at 7:30 CT and can be watched on Fox Sports Southwest or NBA League Pass.