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3 things to watch for as the Dallas Mavericks take on the Toronto Raptors

The Mavericks welcome the friendly neighbors from The North to the AAC.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

The Dallas Mavericks, winners of nine of their last ten games, take on the Toronto Raptors Wednesday night at the American Airlines Center in Dallas. The Mavericks are fresh off a win against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday night, a game they controlled start to finish but struggled to close in the second half.

The Raptors, on the other hand, are scuffling a bit. They’ve lost three of their last four, and haven’t scored more than a hundred points in that stretch. Their one win, though, was against the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Mavericks defeated the Raptors 103-95 in their first matchup, early in the season in Toronto. Dallas had trouble scoring in that game, but stifled the Raptors’ offense, holding them to 40% shooting from the field. OG Anunoby led the Raptors in scoring with 23.

Here are three things to watch for in their final matchup of the year:

Contain Fred VanVleet

VanVleet is having the best season of his career. He’s averaging 21.9 points per game, which puts him 20th in the league in scoring. He’s also dishing out 6.7 assists per game, which is 15th in the NBA. VanVleet is the engine of the Raptors’ offense, and if the Mavericks can slow him down, they’ll be in position to win. Jalen Brunson will probably draw the defensive assignment on VanVleet, but the Mavericks have the size and length to bother him on switches. As long as they don’t let him get into space to operate, they should be able to keep him under control.

Protect the ball

The Raptors are third in the NBA in steals, averaging 9.1 per game. They might catch a break, as Gary Trent Jr., their leader in steals with 1.9 per game, is listed as questionable. But the rest of the roster is just as adept at taking the ball away. VanVleet, Scottie Barnes, Anunoby, and Pascal Siakam all average at least a steal per game. They’ve got length and strong, quick hands. If the Mavericks get sloppy, the Raptors will pounce. Luckily the Mavericks continue to take care of the ball, leading the NBA with only 11.5 turnovers per game.

Don’t let the game come down to the wire

Lately, the Mavericks have had a habit of letting games against inferior teams get close toward the end. They don’t want to do this against the Raptors, who are sixth in the NBA in clutch 3-point shooting. Toronto hits 39% of their shots from deep in clutch time, which is the last five minutes of any game where a team is leading or trailing by five or less points.

The Mavericks saw first hand what can happen when you let a team hang around too long. The Sacramento Kings notched a 95-94 victory over the Mavericks by hitting a game-winning 3-pointer a few weeks ago. Dallas can’t let the Raptors have a chance to do the same. They need to start the game aggressively and make sure the Raptors don’t get to showcase their clutch shooting in the fourth.

How to watch

The game tips off at 7:30 p.m. and can be seen on Bally Sports Southwest or NBA League Pass. If you can only listen, the game is on 97.1 The Eagle.