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3 things to watch as the Mavericks face the Grizzlies

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The Mavericks look to take one step closer to the postseason in their bout against a division foe

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Mavericks (40-28) ride a four-game win streak into a visit with the Memphis Grizzlies. After losing back-to-back games against the New York Knicks and Sacramento Kings near the end of April, the Mavericks have built a 10-3 record and have gathered momentum heading into the postseason. Even in gridlock with the Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Lakers, the Mavericks find themselves fifth in the Western Conference, inching closer to avoiding the play-in tournament.

The Grizzlies (35-33) secured a key victory last night against the New Orleans Pelicans, as they jostle back and forth with the Golden State Warriors for the eighth playoff spot. The Grizzlies are also attempting to work in Jaren Jackson Jr., who has missed the whole season to this point due to injury recovery. That’s been a tough task, with the Grizz going just 3-5 in those contests.

This will be an important game for both teams, as it kicks off a jam packed week to wrap up the regular season. After the magic that took place in their last matchup, expect fireworks Tuesday night.

Setting defensive tone

While the Mavericks don’t possess the defensive prowess they were hoping for this season, they have their moments. Over their last 10 games, they actually have the sixth best Defensive Rating in the league (107.8, according to NBA.com). While missing two starters in Kristaps Porzingis and Maxi Kleber, the Mavericks have brought new energy and dare I say a level of feistiness in moments — even if it hasn’t sustained most full games.

The Grizzlies really have all the tools to be a disruptor to the Mavericks’ offense. They have aggressive guards willing to muck up the perimeter, lengthy forwards that can play inside out, and a center that grabs any rebound in a Tennessee zip code. Their defense (eighth best in the league this season with a 110.6 Defensive Rating) can set a tone in any tight contest. Last night they even broke a franchise record with 19 blocks as a team.

As of this writing, Kleber is “Questionable” for the game and Porzingis is “Out”, with a tentative plan to return for the Pelicans game tomorrow. It will be interesting to see how Rick Carlisle approaches lineup decisions. Both Tim Hardaway Jr. and Willie Cauley-Stein have been strong in the starting lineup. Cauley-Stein leads the Mavericks in Net Rating among players with at least 10 starts — in his 15 games he has a 108.9 Defensive Rating (behind only Kleber) and a Net Rating of +5.7. In his last four starts he is +9.3. There is a flow that’s being created among this new starting group that I would be surprised if Carlisle opted to disrupt.

Rhythm for Richardson

It hasn’t been an easy season for Josh Richardson. After being traded on draft night in the fall, barely having a camp to learn a new system, contracting and recovering from Covid-19, and battling the demands of this season, it hasn’t been an ideal situation as he approaches a decision with his player option this summer.

But suddenly, there is new life in his game. After scoring 20 points in the Mavericks win against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday, Richardson remarked on the change, saying, “I’ve been in the gym a lot more than I normally would be because I take things personally when I’m not playing up to where I want to be.”

Whatever he’s doing in that extra gym time seems to be working. In his last four games, including a game in which he was benched to start the second half, Richardson is averaging 16 points while shooting 47-percent from three, and nabbing two steals per contest. In essence, he’s doing the exact things that made Dallas want him in the first place. If ever there was a time to find a rhythm, this is it, so hopefully it carries over to tonight.

The Playoffs are here

The league office must be salivating. The Playoffs haven’t started, but “The Playoffs” are here. Every night there are at least two to three games with massive postseason implications. Lately, for the most part, the Mavericks have answered the call.

The biggest knock on the Mavericks last season, excluding the absence of any defense at all, was their inability to win the tight ones. They gave up lead after lead or couldn’t make the shots when they counted and lost a jaw-dropping amount of crunch time bouts. Some of those same issues plagued them last postseason in their series against the Los Angeles Clippers.

But with so much on the line already for these teams, the playoff atmosphere and intensity is here. I’d say more, but it is already said better HERE. The Mavericks are better by being thrown in the fire, and each night the flame gets higher. Expect a heated battle with plenty on the line tonight in Memphis.

How to Watch

Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. CT, and can be watched on Bally Sports or NBA League Pass.