Two weeks after their first encounter -- a close game that Dallas let slip away in the fourth quarter for a loss -- Dallas will get to play Chicago at home. It’s notable in that this is just Dallas’ fourth home game of the season, despite playing 11 games. It’ll be a brief road respite in a season that sees the Mavericks loading up on their frequent flier miles through the first quarter of the season.
In their first match-up, Dallas was playing shorthanded, missing both its stars in Luka Doncic, who was out with a thigh contusion, and Kristaps Porzingis, who was still rehabbing from offseason surgery on his knee. The script is flipped now, but the headline is still the same; Dallas will have the star power from Porzingis and Doncic, but are without the bulk of their main supporting cast. Dorian Finney-Smith, Maxi Kleber, Dwight Powell, and Josh Richardson all remain out due to COVID and health and safety measures. Jalen Brunson, though, has been listed as questionable.
On their other side, a largely healthy Bulls squad led by an ascendant Zach LaVine will attempt to sweep the season tilt with Dallas. LaVine is currently third in the NBA in scoring, putting up 28.3 points per game.
Who’s stepping up?
Dallas has proved remarkably resilient during this tough stretch, down a number of starters and key role players. Before giving Milwaukee everything they could handle in a close 112-109 loss, they showed they could still handle business against teams they should beat, building a four-game win streak.
We’ve seen Tim Hardaway Jr. step up big after a rough shooting start to the season, and a huge scoring game from Trey Burke. Porzingis being back in the fold and looking right also bodes well, but it is an admittedly strange position for a team like Dallas to be worried about where their scoring is going to come from.
Dallas Mavericks, defensive powerhouse
That said, who needs to score when you can just be the third best points-allowed team in the NBA? An improved defense was at the top of Dallas’ priority list this off-season, but few would’ve predicted these kind of results this soon. 11 games aren't the largest sample size, but it’s not nothing.
Even without strong individual defenders like Richardson and Finney-Smith, Dallas is finding ways to keep teams from running away with the score. Doncic has taken a notable step on the defensive side of the ball this season, and an engaged Willey Cauley-Stein is shoring up some gaps that could’ve grown into fractures with Kleber and Porzingis missing time. That defensive mindset will need to continue if the Mavs have any hope of weathering the storm until they reach full health again.
Make the easy ones
Something that might go a long way to shoring up some missing offensive firepower would be if the team could collectively make their free throws. They take nearly 24 per game, (good for sixth in the league) but only convert at a 74% clip (a lowly 22nd in the league.) We saw what bricking free throws can do in the game against the Bucks. In a match-up where Milwaukee, on paper, had every chance to run away with one, they shot just 12-of-25 from the line. The 1-for-10 line from MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo didn’t help matters. However, the Mavericks didn’t take advantage of Milwaukee’s bad free throw night, shooting only 6-of-13 themselves.
Dallas has been spoiled for nearly two decades as we had an offense that ran through one of the NBA’s greatest free throw shooters in Dirk Nowitzki. Now, though, it’s going to be a team effort to bump that number up.
How to watch
The game tips at 2 p.m. CT and can be watched on NBA TV or Fox Sports Southwest.