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3 things to look for as the Dallas Mavericks face the Los Angeles Lakers

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A marquee matchup, even without a pretty important piece.

Dallas Mavericks v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images

The Dallas Mavericks (31-26) are 3-5 in their last eight games. They’re a team that’s battling to avoid a play-in scenario, with plenty of opportunities to do so in the next 15 games. The Los Angeles Lakers (35-23) are never an easy win. But with injuries still plaguing the team, the Mavericks will look to make the most of back-to-back games against them. It’ll be easier said than done, however, as Dallas is coming off a 127-117 win against the Pistons just last night.

Anthony Davis’s Return

Anthony Davis hasn’t played since Valentine’s Day. He was having a great season — averaging 22.5 points, 8.4 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.8 blocks per game — before a calf strain and right leg tendonitis snuck up on him. Now, over two months after his last game, he’ll look to resume those high-caliber numbers in his return.

Davis will be on about a 15 minutes restriction against Dallas, but even short bursts of the All-NBA player are scary. On Christmas Day, just the second game of the season, the Lakers steamrolled the Mavericks, 138-115. Davis led all scorers in that game, pouring in 28 points on 10-of-16 shooting from the field. It looked effortless for him in every single one of his 30 minutes played that night, grabbing eight rebounds and dishing out five assists in the process.

It’s unlikely we see the usual Davis after this much time off, but he’s still a threat the Mavericks will need to contain.

A Tale of Two Defenses

The Lakers defense has been extraordinary this season. In the 28 games before Davis was injured, Los Angeles had the best defensive rating in the league, allowing just 105.1 points per 100 possesions. To give that some perspective, the Utah Jazz — who were 22-5 at that point — were allowing a second-best 107.0 points per 100 possesions. It would’ve been understandable if the Lakers defense tanked when they lost a versatile defender like Davis, but it didn’t. Since Feb. 14, the Lakers rank second in the NBA in defensive rating, allowing 107.3 points per 100 possesions. They’re the only team in the top-11 of defensive rating with a losing record in that time.

Meanwhile, Dallas is trying to get their mojo back on the defensive end. Heading into Valentine’s Day, the Mavericks were 27th in the NBA in defensive rating. Luckily it’s improved since then, as Dallas ranks 11th in defensive rating since then. But in the seven games before facing the Pistons last night, the Mavericks entered an ugly skid of basketball due to their defense. In that seven game span, Dallas ranks 27th in defensive rating. If they want to beat this Lakers team, even one that is short-handed, they’ll need to not allow easy buckets.

The Don

Luka Doncic is built for the spotlight, there’s no doubt about that. But Doncic has struggled (for his standards) against the Lakers up to this point in his career. In eight games played against Los Angeles, Doncic is averaging 22.0 points per game. He averages less than that against only the Heat (17.8) and the Sixers (21.0). He also has posted less than impressive shooting splits of .407/.308/.792. So what’s the deal with Luka? Is it good defense, an outlier due to the sample size, or the pressure? Luckily, it looks like its as simple as this — the Lakers have a handful of defenders that give Doncic trouble. Last season, Doncic went 1-of-7 seven when defended by Alex Curuso and 3-of-7 when defended by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. The unlucky part of it? Doncic will have to find ways to exploit these matchups for the Mavericks to have a chance at winning.

I’m trusting that he eventually will.

How to watch

This game will tip-off at 8:30 p.m. CST and will be nationally televised on TNT.