The Dallas Mavericks are on a three-game win streak and have won four of their last five. The Mavericks are still below .500 on the season with a record of 12-14, but they are finally starting to look like the team we expected. If they want to make it four straight wins, which would match their longest win streak of the season, they’ll have to take down a Pelicans team that has also begun to find its rhythm.
New Orleans (11-13), like Dallas, has also won four out of their last five. They’re led by their two young stars — Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram — who are averaging a combined 47.5 points per game this season. Believe it or not, that’s the same exact amount that Luka Doncic (27.8 points per game) and Kristaps Porzingis (19.7 points per game) are averaging together this season.
Lonzo Ball is on track to have the best scoring season of his young career, averaging 13.9 points per game. 31-year-old Eric Bledsoe has provided a veteran presence for the young core. Nickeil Alexander-Walker is showing he could develop into a high-end rotation player.
All of these players come together to form a team with a ceiling that’s tough to predict. Are they a playoff team? A play-in team? Or will they miss the playoffs for the fourth straight season?
We won’t know the answer to those questions for a while, but we will get to see how they look against these Mavericks. Let’s dig into what you need to look for during Friday’s game:
A Battle of the Hot Hands
Both teams started their seasons off poorly. The Mavericks were hit hard by COVID-19, while the Pelicans looked like a team that was led by a coach who had been away from the game for a few years. But finally, both teams have found some sort of a stride.
The Pelicans' offensive performance this season has been crutched by their spacing, as they rank 21st in the NBA in three-point percentage. But their offense has looked tremendously better the last five games, as New Orleans has averaged 120.1 points per game while shooting 42.4 percent from three.
Williamson and Ingram are on a tear, which is no secret as to why this team is doing well. Over the last five games, Williamson is averaging 24.8 points per game on 67.6 percent shooting, while Ingram is shooting 50 percent and scoring 24.6 points per game. However, the hidden key to the run might be Lonzo Ball, who’s averaging 18.0 points per game and has strung together has an impressive last five games.
Shooting is naturally streaky, and that’s been evident with the Mavericks so far this season. Dallas is second-to-last in three-point percentage, but they’re shooting a much more normal 38.8 percent over their last five games. The Mavericks have also found ways to balance their offense out. Five players are averaging at least double-digit scoring over the last five games, providing at least some relief for Doncic.
The Pelicans know how to crash the glass. They currently rank sixth in rebounds per game, third in offensive rebounds per game, and second in rebounding rate. The Mavericks, unfortunately, are not a good rebounding team. Dallas is 27th in rebounding rate and 25th in offensive rebounds per game. That’s gotten them into some trouble this season. The Mavericks are currently 3-13 in games where are they outrebounded by their opponents. They’ll have to either outrebound the Pelicans (no small feat), or find a way to beat them anyways.
Zion vs. Maxi
Broke: Zion Williamson vs. Luka Doncic is a premier matchup of the league’s young talent.
Woke: Zion Williamson vs. Maxi Kleber is a premier matchup between the sophomore SuperMan and his kryptonite.
Everyone remembers the game on March 5, the last time these two teams faced off. Undrafted forward Maxi Kleber was in the starting lineup and given the tough assignment of containing the reigning number one pick, Zion Williamson. On paper, it could’ve looked like a nightmare matchup. By the end of the night, Kleber had five blocks, all of them against Williamson.
You see, Kleber is a unique defender. He’s big but has good lateral speed. He’s disciplined to a fault at times, often not intending to block a shot, but rather disrupt it. Those traits came together to create an extraordinary performance by Kleber, a game many of us still remember well. You can relive Kleber’s defense against Williamson below.
In this upcoming game, Willamson will have a few more tricks up his sleeve. The Ringer NBA Show has a new show called “Ringer NBA University”, where they dive deep into the league’s young guys. They had some really good finds on Williamson’s new-founded playmaking in their most recent podcast episode.
Williamson has seen an increase in not only his perimeter usage but also in the pick-and-roll under Stan Van Gundy. But not as a roll man.
Last season as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, Williamson didn’t even populate in the NBA’s play type database because he ran it so sparingly. This season, he’s averaging a modest 1.2 possessions as a PnR ball-handler per game. The Ringer podcast says Synergy lists him as averaging 4.3 pick-and-rolls ran per game over his last seven contests. He hasn’t been great out of the play, but it has created some space for him to function offensively. The result is an incredible surge in offensive production over the last eight games. Zion’s averaging 23.8 points per game over that stretch, which is right near his season average. However, he’s averaging 4.8 assists per game in his last eight. To give that some context, Williamson averaged 3.5 assists per 100 possessions last season.
It’s crazy what Williamson, a guy how was often his team’s facilitator before he got to Duke, is doing on offense right now. Unfortunately for the Mavericks, it’s one more thing Kleber will have to account for.
Where to watch
This game tips-off at an earlier-than-usual 6:30 p.m. Central. It’s another national TV game for Dallas, this one on ESPN. You can also watch on Fox Sports Southwest if you’re in the Metroplex (we think, it might get blacked out again).