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4 things to watch for when the Mavericks battle the Pelicans

The short-handed Mavericks take on the 4-5 Pelicans.

New Orleans Pelicans v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

The Dallas Mavericks (5-4) carry a three-game win streak Monday night against the New Orleans Pelicans (4-5).

The Mavericks will have a litany of players out because of COVID protocols, so the depth will be tested once again, only this time against a talented Pelicans team led by Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson. However, for the first time this season, Kristaps Porzingis is listed as questionable on the injury report.

Dallas won all four games against the Pelicans last season, but without key players, the Mavericks will need to play almost flawless basketball to keep the streak alive. Here’s what we’re watching for tonight:

The frontcourt

Just as the Mavericks seemed to figure out the frontcourt rotation, news broke Sunday that Maxi Kleber was on the injury report for health and safety protocols related to COVID. Despite that, Kleber was then listed as questionable late Sunday night, so there's still a chance he can play. Josh Richardson and Dorian-Finney Smith are the starters who will definitely miss Monday's game. More importantly, Kleber is instrumental in slowing down Williamson, who is a freight train with the basketball and a dominant force in the paint. If he's out, that will make the matchup even trickier for Dallas.

That task could fall on someone’s shoulders. I’m honestly not sure who. Maybe Dwight Powell. It could be Willie Cauley-Stein. I know it won’t be Boban Marjanovic. My best guess would be James Johnson. In addition to Williamson, Steven Adams (who is questionable with a migraine) could pose serious problems on the glass. The Pelicans grab the sixth-most offensive rebounds per game and have the second-best offensive rebound percentage. To put it simply, the Mavericks are severely out-manned and any chance at victory starts with Cauley-Stein and Johnson staying out of foul trouble.

Turn the Pelicans over

If there’s an area for the Mavericks to exploit, it’s in the turnover department. On the surface the Pelicans cough the ball up 16.7 times per game (fourth-most in the league), which results in opponents scoring 20.2 points per game off turnovers. The Mavericks don’t score a ton of points off turnovers, but the team is just outside the top ten in steals per game. With Dallas being without several key players, getting cheap, easy buckets is paramount in stealing a victory.

Josh Green vs. Wes Iwundu

If every player was available, this would not be a topic of discussion, but Saturday the rookie got the start and didn’t do much with his minutes. Iwundu came off the bench and played 32 total minutes compared to Green’s 15. He didn’t score, but he registered six rebounds, one assist, and two steals. Most notably, he closed the game with the starting group in place of Green. Both players should have ample opportunity to play, but which one makes the bigger impact remains to be seen. Green’s effort is nice, but the Mavericks need more, and Iwundu provided that last time out.

Kristaps Porzingis could return

If Porzingis does return after missing the first nine games rehabbing from meniscus surgery, he’ll be thrown to the wolves keeping Adams off the glass and contesting Williamson at the rim. I’d prefer the Mavericks play it safe, but they’re running out of bodies. I wouldn’t expect Bubble Porzingis, but his mere presence should open up the floor in ways the other big men simply can’t.

How to watch

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