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3 things to watch for as the Mavericks face the Pelicans

The Mavericks continue their quest to avoid the play-in tournament against the shorthanded Pelicans

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Memphis Grizzlies Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Mavericks (40-29) are winners of 10 of their last 13 games and seem to finally be approaching full strength as they close in on the playoffs. The sixth-seeded Mavericks sit even with the fifth-seeded Portland TrailBlazers, and 1.5 games above the seventh-seeded Los Angeles Lakers (currently in action against the Knicks) in the standings. Even after Dallas got a wire-to-wire ass kicking by the Grizzlies, they still essentially control their own destiny from this point forward.

The New Orleans Pelicans (31-38) currently sit at 11th in the standings, 2.5 games out of a berth in the play-in tournament. The Pelicans held on to some real hope as recently as last week, but the loss of Zion Williamson to a broken finger led them to very quickly reassess their season. The Pelicans played their most recent game without Williamson, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, and Steven Adams. Not the mark of a team trying to win games.

Dallas would love to win this game, and I imagine that New Orleans wouldn’t mind losing. Let’s hope for something easy after Tuesday’s embarrassment.

Here’s a few things to keep an eye on:

The return of the Zing

I haven’t written a thing for this site in the last year (fake editor’s note: Kevin barely writes at all, so this tracks) that didn’t contain some sort of breathless coverage of some Kristaps Porzingis situation. It’s a little exhausting. We all know the talent Kristaps brings to the table, and the things that he clumsily knocks off that same table. The people who are super high on him are too high. The people who are super low on him are too low.

KP just is what he is. He’s played in 58 percent of Mavericks’ games this season. No offense to Andrew Sharp, but as a faithful congregant of the Church of Ben Golliver I believe that the best ability is availability. If your second-best player misses nearly half of your games, you’re going to have problems! BUT, Porzingis is back just in time to get a couple of tune-up games in before the Playoffs begin. Hopefully he can end this season healthy.

Luka Doncic- itching for a suspension

All season long Luka has been doing his best Rasheed Wallace impression and daring referees to hit him with technicals. Does Luka have some valid complaints? Sure. But is it super annoying when Luka makes that “Who me?” Tim Duncan face all the time? Also sure! He knows he needs to calm it down, and he has, somewhat. He just needs to hold on a bit longer because the Mavericks can’t afford to lose him in any of their final games.

Adding injuries to his many insults, Luka is now apparently a nut-puncher! I think many observers rightfully believe that the Doncic/Sexton interaction was an unfortunate accident, but any negative spotlight on Luka in this way only hurts his reputation moving forward. And as we all know, if a Dallas Maverick is going to hit you below the belt, he’s going to wait until you’re on the ground, rear back and really throw one at you.

Maxi after rest

Maxi Kleber, that pretty bastard, was a very reliable member of the Mavericks’ rotation across his first three seasons. This year has been a little tougher on him, but honestly it hasn’t been great for many of us. Maxi is shooting 41.5 percent from three on the year and if that holds up it could be an absolute game changer for this team in the playoffs. That being said, Maxi has only scored in double digits three times in his last 21 games, going back to the middle of March.

Maxi has been visibly exhausted. Getting wrecked by covid knocked him for nearly a month of games, and the residual effects were noticeable for quite some time after. The team needs his shooting and needs his activity on defense. Maxi’s most recent absence was due to a strained Achilles, and hopefully the week-plus of rest he’s just gotten will benefit him in more ways than one.

How to watch

The game tips at 8:00 PM Central and can be seen on Bally fuggin’ Sports, NBA League Pass, or your local reddit stream.