The Dallas Mavericks (32-26) will play host to the Los Angeles Lakers (35-24) Saturday night, their second meeting in a row — part of a unique schedule quirk in this pandemic-influenced season. The Mavericks won the first game, a 115-110 physical affair.
With just 14 games left in the season, and the Mavericks trying to both battle back and forth with the Portland Trail Blazers and fend off the Memphis Grizzlies, playing a repeat opponent provides equal parts opportunity and challenge. The games themselves are already producing playoff level atmospheres, and the growing familiarity of opponent will make this a compelling test for the Mavericks.
Notable here, Lakers big man Anthony Davis made his return on Thursday night, a minutes restriction appearance as he knocked a lot of rust off. On the other side the Mavericks starting front court of Maxi Kleber (contusion) and Kristaps Porzingis (ankle) are both listed as questionable at the time of this writing.
Here is what we will be watching for:
Spreading the wealth
There was a different energy to the first match up. Unsurprising (and frustrating) this season, the Mavericks play to the level of their opponent and had a focused energy after a slow start. That energy was apparent in renewed effort on loose balls, and some crisp ball movement offensively.
This will surely be necessary again tonight. With a defensive-minded team like the Lakers, the Mavericks will need to keep the ball moving to find their openings. They were fairly effective in this regard Thursday, with six Mavericks reaching double figures. And oddly enough, that didn’t include bench duo Jalen Brunson and Tim Hardaway Jr. It’s a bright spot for the Mavericks that they could get such a key win without relying entirely on this pair to deliver.
Getting to the paint
The Mavericks are 24th in the league this season scoring in the lane, averaging 44.1 points in the paint per game. But you wouldn’t know that from the previous game. There were times the Mavericks were not just living in the lane, but buying real estate at the rim.
A combination of Anthony Davis playing little, and Andre Drummond being slow in containment or help defense, the Mavericks used it to their advantage and netted 56 points in the paint. That’s a lot.
The Mavericks typically lean on their three ball, but had just nine made threes Thursday. It will be interesting to see if they try and implement a similar level of attack tonight. Does that change with the possible absence of both Porzingis and Kleber (who missed the first game)? It will be important for spacing that both Dwight Powell and Willie Cauley-Stein provide enough vertical threat to open up lanes for Luka Doncic and others.
The Lakers don’t shy away from contact. They want to make opponents uncomfortable, and dare officials to blow the whistle. And for the most part Thursday they did, with the Lakers being called for 28 fouls (the Mavericks had 15).
The second half of Thursday’s game is when that physicality was most effective, starting the third on a 11-0 run and getting the Mavericks pretty frustrated in the process. The Mavs don’t always respond well to that level of contact, but they took the punch and hit back. One way they did that was getting to the line, hitting 26-of-36 from the line. Not a standout percentage, but vital points nonetheless.
It will be worth watching to see if the Lakers start the game with that level of aggression, to try and knock the Mavericks off their rhythm from the tip. The Mavericks will need to be ready and able to adapt when the punch comes.
How to Watch
Tip off is set for 7:30 pm CT, and can be watched on ABC.