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3 things to watch for as the Mavericks take on the Magic

Dallas looks to keep up their recent winning stretch against Orlando.

Orlando Magic v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s been a long road, but the Dallas Mavericks (16-16) are finally at .500. After going 3-1 in a four game stretch against Memphis, Boston, Philadelphia and Brooklyn, the Mavericks can now attempt to be over .500 for the first time since Jan. 22.

This should be a somewhat easier game than the previous four, with Orlando (13-21) currently going through somewhat of a nose dive. The Magic started the season 6-2 before the usual Magic trend of injuries derailed their season. Now they’re three games back on the final spot in the play-in tournament for the eighth seed.

Dallas must take care of business. These are the types of games the team can’t afford to drop as they try to battle back to the sixth seed and avoid the randomness that could occur during those play-in games.

Here’s what we’re watching for:

Improving Mavericks defense

During the 3-1 stretch, the Mavericks gave up 104.1 points per 100 possessions, the best defensive rating of any team in the past four games. It helps to play against a struggling Memphis team, a Boston team going through some serious funk and a Brooklyn team without Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving, but considering where the Mavericks defense a week or so ago, this is a pleasant trend.

Kristaps Porzingis returned from his back injury Saturday against the Nets and moved much better defensively. The offense with Porzingis is a little wonky still, but if he can consistently move well on the defensive end, the Mavericks will be better for it.

Can the Mavericks handle Vucevic?

Magic center Nikola Vucevic was named an All-Star for the Eastern Conference last week and for good reason — dude is cooking the league, despite Orlando’s depleted roster.

He’s averaging 24.4 points, 11.6 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.0 steal and 0.6 blocks per game, all while shooting 48.3 percent from the field and 41 percent from three, on 6.4 attempts per game. Vucevic has been the offensive fulcrum of the Magic and basketball the entire team.

Thankfully for the Mavericks, he’s about the only threat. Injuries have decimated Orlando’s rotation: Jonathan Isaac is still out with a torn ACL from the bubble last year, Markelle Fultz is out for the season and Aaron Gordon suffered a high-ankle sprain at the start of February and is still out. Outside of Vucevic, the Magic try to squeeze as many points out of Evan Fournier and Terrence Ross as they can and then just hope for the best.

Vucevic will be a problem. The Mavericks pick and roll defense has been exposed a lot this season and a well-rounded big like Vucevic can bust things open with his ability to roll, isolate out of the post and pop to the three point line. It will needed to be a team effort among the Mavericks bigs.

Richardson continuing to score well

Josh Richardson has had a weird season, to say the least, but he appears to returning to form.

He started strong, tested positive for COVID-19 and then struggled, as you’d expect from someone recovering from the virus. In February though, Richardson somewhat quietly started to rebound. He averaged 13.6 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game in the month, while also shooting 46.3 percent from the field and 32.8 percent from three.

That three-point mark is the number to watch, as Richardson spent a lot of time below 30 percent from three this season, an outlier number even considering Richardson’s worst shooting seasons of his career. He’s also scored in double-digits four games in a row, which ties his season-high streak. Let’s see if that continues against an Orlando team struggling with perimeter depth.

How to watch

After a parade of games on national TV, the Mavericks are back on local television and you can catch the game on Fox Sports SW or NBA league pass at the very early time of 6:00 p.m. CST