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3 things to watch for as the Mavericks visit the Spurs

The Mavericks will look to get back over .500.

Dallas Mavericks v San Antonio Spurs Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

The Dallas Mavericks (7-7) will visit the San Antonio Spurs (8-7) on Friday in a Texas showdown. The Mavericks got an impressive win against the Indiana Pacers Wednesday night after dropping three straight, but they’re still likely to be without key role players due to COVID protocols. The Spurs have been relatively consistent as well, recently getting wins against the Lakers and Trail Blazers but losing against the Timberwolves and Rockets.

The Mavericks are still in “stay afloat” mode until they get Finney-Smith, Kleber, Richardson, and Powell back, and the games just keep coming.

Here’s what we’ll be watching for when the two teams tip off at 7:30pm CT tomorrow:

The Mavericks will have to carefully manage minutes

The aforementioned absences due to health and safety protocols has clearly meant a significantly greater workload across the board for the remaining Mavericks. Luka Doncic has played upwards of 34 minutes in every game since the Nuggets win, when the COVID outbreak hit the team. He’s effectively carried the offense in all of those minutes and his usage rate has been sky high. Porzingis played 30 or more minutes in each of the three losses, including a back-to-back. The Mavericks certainly wouldn’t be playing their two stars this heavily under normal circumstances and continuing to do so risks potential injuries or fatigue, both of which we’ve witnessed in recent games.

Further down the bench, the minutes of players like James Johnson and Wes Iwundu are up significantly as well. These are guys that would normally play fewer than 15 minutes a game (if at all) who ended up with over 25 minutes over the last several games. The one silver lining is that rookie Josh Green has received a bump in playing time, which will certainly help him in his overall development as he navigates the rough terrain of the NBA. He will likely have a role against the Spurs, especially after what was his best performance yet against the Pacers.

What kinds of looks will Kristaps Porzingis get?

Another Maverick who had his best game of the season is Porzingis, who had season highs in both points (27) and rebounds (13). He continues to get his legs under him after recovering from knee surgery, but his usage at the five against the Pacers may have been the biggest cause for his performance. In the post-game coverage, he mentioned how playing at center makes him more effective both when rolling to the rim and popping and providing spacing for the offense and the numbers certainly back that up. At least five of his shot attempts last night were uncontested dunks off Doncic passes. In previous games where he played at the four, his shot selection mostly consisted of deep three-point shots or post-up attempts far from the hoop.

The strategic change by the Mavericks may have been in response to the Pacers’ lineup, as they played only one big man (Sabonis), which made Porzingis playing the five an appropriate reaction. The Spurs like to play with more than one big man at once, so Coach Carlisle might revert back to the original plan.

A tale of two shooting performances

Perhaps no other team in the NBA has their game-by-game outcomes dictated so heavily by their shooting efficiency from behind the three-point line. The Mavericks are shooting 37.4% from distance in their wins and a horrendous 29% in their losses. When going player by player, the statistics remain as stark: Tim Hardaway Jr., the clearest example, has a 21 percentage-point drop off in his shooting when comparing losses to wins.

The Spurs don’t really have a single player who can guard Doncic, so expect them to try various creative approaches to limit his effectiveness, including double teams to get the ball out of his hands. If this happens, the key to the game will be role players hitting open shots, and only time will tell if they are able to find their hot hand.

How to watch

The game will tip off at 7:30pm Central Time, and can be watched on Fox Sports Southwest or League Pass.