The Dallas Mavericks (15-15) will visit the Eastern Conference leading Philadelphia 76ers (21-11) Thursday night. The Mavericks are coming off two exciting victories against the Grizzlies and Celtics after a hiatus due to the weather-related postponements. The 76ers just split a mini-series against the Toronto Raptors in Tampa.
The second half schedule of this season was just released; the two teams are scheduled to meet in Dallas for their only other matchup on April 12th.
Kristaps Porzingis, who didn’t play in the last two Mavericks games, is listed as questionable with a back issue. Maxi Kleber is also questionable with a sprained ankle suffered in the Memphis game.
Here’s what we’ll be watching for when the two teams tip off at 6pm CT:
A homecoming for Josh Richardson
On Draft Night, November 18th 2020, the Mavericks traded Seth Curry for then 76er Josh Richardson and a second round pick. The move was designed to give Dallas a primary on-ball defender who could also take advantage of the spacing in the Mavericks offensive system. The results so far have been... mixed.
Richardson is definitely the Mavericks’ best perimeter defender, but his shooting numbers have slumped. He’s shooting a career-worst 31.2% from three this year and has an effective field goal percentage (50.9%) in the bottom half of the league among starters. Also, he hasn’t been present in key moments of games, such as clutch time against the Celtics, and wasn’t matched up on Damian Lillard at all in the Trail Blazers game.
Since he’s been at full strength after recovering from COVID-19, there have certainly been positive moments like his blazing start in the Grizzlies game. Hopefully a return to the red and blue scenery in Philly will help, because he is certainly a bellwether of Dallas’s success: in games where he scores 15+, the Mavericks are 7-2.
How will the Mavericks contain Joel Embiid?
The seven-foot center has been on a tear this season and is in serious MVP contention thus far. He’s third in the league in scoring (29.8 a game) and first among players averaging at least 10 rebounds a night, but what might be the scariest about him is his set of tools. He has great mobility at that size and is by far the best post player in the league, and he’s even shooting 40%+ from three in limited attempts.
Basically, he’s the exact type of big man that the Mavericks are the worst prepared against. In many of Dallas’s recent wins, the opposing team didn’t have a dominant big (Minnesota’s 6-9 Naz Reid, Boston’s 6-8 Daniel Theis, etc.), allowing the Mavericks’ set of leaner and more mobile centers to take care of business.
Expect the Mavericks to utilize double teams and perhaps another Boban sighting to try to stop him. If all else fails, they might just try to outscore the Sixers and resort to a five-out offense to pull him out of the paint. They’ll need Kleber or Porzingis to do that, however.
The Mavericks will need production from the perimeter
The player-by-player swings in three-point shooting this season are truly mind-boggling. At any given moment, every Dallas Maverick is essentially coming off an O-fer or a hot-hand shooting clinic. Tim Hardaway was 0-8 from three against the Celtics after going 7-11 the night before. Dorian Finney-Smith is now 2-15 from three after hitting 60.1% on 33 attempts over a stretch of five games.
Luka Doncic has seen a meteoric rise in his distance shooting, as he’s now above 44% in February on over seven attempts a game. If he can keep this level of production up, he might still have a run at MVP this season. In the meantime, it would mightily help if the Maverick role players could find some consistency, or at least get the ball to whoever is in rhythm at the moment.
How to watch
The game will tip off at 6pm Central Time, and can be watched on TNT or League Pass.