Things have been better in Mavs-land. The team has lost five of its last six games, and just as Jalen Brunson is coming back from a foot injury, Kristaps Porzingis went down with an ankle injury that cold see him out for some period of time. It’s a real shame as Porzingis has been playing great basketball since returning from a lower back injury earlier this season.
Meanwhile, New Orleans are winners of three of their last four, with wins over the Wizards, Jazz and Clippers in a game where Jonas Valunciusas scored 39 points shooting 7-of-8 from three. From three!
This matchup will see two teams pointing in distinctly different directions — one riding high after a slow start to the season, and the other looking to get back up on the horse.
The first time Dallas faced New Orleans this season, they walked away with a comfortable 16 point victory. It was a win driven in large part by bench play from Reggie Bullock, Jalen Brunson and Frank Ntilikina, who scored a combined 38 points. Compare that to the Pelicans who, while playing without Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram, got 10 bench points total, and they were all from center Jaxson Hayes.
Now, Ingram’s back and averaging 19.2 points in his last 10 games. Dallas will likely be missing Porzingis and Frank Ntilikina, and leaning heavily on a version of Jalen Brunson who’s coming off a foot injury.
Injuries are an unfortunate reality for any NBA team over the course of a season. Neither team has featured particularly inspiring bench play across the season — Dallas and New Orleans’ bench units rank 22nd and 26th respectively in scoring — so for the Mavericks to lose even a portion of the small amount of bench firepower they had could cause problems is the starters aren’t building big leads.
What’s Valanciunas got in the tank?
The Pelicans impressive play as of late seems to bear a striking causal relationship with the absolute tear Jonas Valanciunas has been on. His aforementioned career high seven threes might be a (terrifying) outlier for a guy who rarely averages more than a single three point attempt per game in his career, but beyond that he’s leading the team in scoring and nearly matching his career high rebounding rate from last season.
His play is particularly worrying as Dallas was already in the midst of a bit of a crisis at the center position, having started Willie Cauley-Stein and Moses Brown in back to back games. And that was before Porzingis went down. Dallas is simply running out of bodies to throw at Valanciunas, so this may be an instance where they have to survive that play of Valanciunas rather than try to suppress it. It’s probably more likely to root for an off game for the big man than for him to get shut down by the likes of Dwight Powell and Moses Brown.
Let the regression begin
Three point shooting for Dallas has been a pain point all season, but there is some historical context for it. You only need to look back to last year to see how Dallas started slow from beyond the arc.
Regarding 3P% regression to the mean in my prior tweet. Some positive news on a rough day.— Iztok Franko (@iztok_franko) November 30, 2021
Last yr Dallas was 8-11 after 19 games, shot 33.6% on three-point shots (ranked 28th) in the NBA,and improved as the season progressed (trend )
This yr they are at 33.3% (rank 24th) atm https://t.co/suO360NbWk pic.twitter.com/sqsOc6fMNx
Unless you believe Dallas, as a team, completely forgot how to shoot, then there must be some inflection point when things start to turn around. The optimistic who are still among us can always hope that comes sooner rather than later. Like, say, against New Orleans.
It goes without saying Luka will need to elevate his shooting, but two other bulk three point shooters, Time Hardaway Jr. and Reggie Bullock are long overdue for a mean reversion. The two are a combined 14-of-66, or 21%, from three over Dallas’ current six game rough patch. And with the rotation trying to weather a new rotation at center and injuries to key contributors, those two more than any other need to step up. Offensively, certainly, but also on the defensive end. Anything the Dallas wings can do to slow down the trio of Ingram, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, and Josh Hart could provide some cover for a potentially big game from Valanciunas.
How to watch
You can watch the broadcast on Bally Sports Southwest at 7:00 CST