The Dallas Mavericks (43-31) wrap up the 2019-20 regular season by facing the red hot Phoenix Suns (33-39) for the second time inside the NBA Bubble in Orlando. Their previous matchup in the eight-game restart saw the Suns blow the doors off the crowdless arena in the third quarter, beating the Mavericks 117-115. The Suns are the lone undefeated team inside the bubble.
There are few consequential stakes for the Mavericks in this game, having already locked up a playoff spot and settled into the seventh position in the Western Conference. But the season is on the line for Devin Booker’s squad, who find themselves locked into a battle — along with the Portland Trail Blazers, Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs — for the chance at a play-in for the eighth seed.
All eyes will be on those four teams, who all play in Thursday contests.
Healthy and Happy
Though the thrill of a must-win final regular season game (or the chance to will themselves away from a match-up with the Los Angeles Clippers) might be, it’s okay to have good feelings about a relaxed final game for the Mavericks. After a relatively dramatic sequence of seven games inside the bubble, the Mavericks can use this final game however they’d like.
At the time of this writing it’s unclear who will be playing for the Mavericks. It would not be surprising to see head coach Rick Carlisle opt to not play key players like Luka Doncic, Kristaps Porzingis, or even possibly guys like Tim Hardaway Jr. and Dorian Finney-Smith; players that have all logged a lot of minutes in the bubble.
If they do make an appearance, perhaps it’s used to maintain rhythm and chemistry. The Mavericks will no doubt have a tough job on their hands in the playoffs, and since there are days off in between this game and the first round, the coaching staff and players have some wiggle room.
It is also important to monitor the health of starting guard Seth Curry, who has been in and out of the lineup recently with vague and mysterious leg issues. As that has impacted him long term in the past, it’s troubling to see that sprout up here, after such a long time off.
It would not be shocking to see the Mavericks hide some scheme, or switch up rotations as they head into the playoffs, if only for the novelty of giving their future opponent less tape on them. What that mean, ultimately, is seeing some lesser used players get more run. Who might be interesting to watch for?
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist - much talked about lately on #MFFLTwitter, the seldom used MKG has made a couple key appearances in Mavericks games. In a last ditch effort to disrupt the Trail Blazers’ offense (and really to slow down Damian Lillard as a team effort) Rick Carlisle tossed the 26 year old, defensive-minded forward. And he flashed in some moments.
For all the uncertainty his offensive game brings, he still shows skill with active hands and physical prowess. And more than anything, he seems to understand his role. Perhaps Kidd-Gilchrist can see extra minutes and crack his way into a partial postseason rotation spot.
Josh Reaves - the ratio of actual minutes played to minutes fans spend debating the rookie Josh Reaves’ potential might be 1:80. Having appeared in just three games, and playing 15 minutes, Reaves fulfills the long MFFL tradition of young project wing that everyone wants so badly to work out.
Much like MKG, Reaves is a disruptor. He uses his long arms and hustle to create chaos along the opponent’s perimeter. He’s raw, to be sure. But he might be the only guard the Mavericks have that play his style. Rick Carlisle needs a jolt of energy to the defense, and it’s possible Reaves could provide that (even if he won’t see any minutes in first round action). Why not toss him out there and see if he can annoy Devin Booker?
Trey Burke - while this is just his eighth game back as a Dallas Maverick, Burke has been a much needed and much used weapon in the Mavericks offense. He burst onto the scene in his debut agains the Houston Rockets.
While that first game flashed all the shooting potential Burke can muster (31 points, 8-of-10 from three), it was his performance against the Trail Blazers that felt most promising. Scoring 12 points, while adding nine assists, four rebounds, a steal and a block, Burke solidified his role during his second stint with the Mavs.
Carlisle might be in a tough spot if Curry is absent for the postseason. Trey Burke’s true role has to be sixth man for the Mavericks, creating all the offense for the second unit. This final regular season game might be a great opportunity to let Burke really stretch his legs as a creator, and gain some momentum for the playoffs.
How to Watch
Tip off is set for 3 CT, and can be watched on TNT as well as FSSW.