Not much has changed since the Mavericks last squared off against the Grizzlies just over a week ago. Memphis has good wins against Chicago and Denver, dropping only a single game against the reigning champion Bucks. In no small part due to missing big contributors Desmond Bane and Kyle Anderson to health and safety protocols.
For their part, Dallas has also stayed hot. They’ve won three of four with the only loss coming against the Phoenix Suns, which shouldn’t even count as a real loss because Dallas may simply never beat the Suns ever again. It’s been over two years. That’s just a scheduled loss every time. You accept it and move on.
The two teams face off for the final time this regular season in Dallas with some post-season scenarios hanging in the balance.
History to be made in the Southwest
The Southwest division in its current iteration has existed since the 2004-05 season. In that time, Memphis has never won it. Hard to blame them, being stuck behind the Spurs and Mavericks as they rattled of 50-win seasons for over a decade. Then came the Harden-era Rockets. Now, though, the division is wide open, and Memphis is ascendant.
As it stands, the Grizzlies have a five game lead over the Mavs, but there’s nearly half a season’s worth of games left to play. A lot can and certainly will happen between now and then. The season series between the two squads stands at 2-1 in favor of Dallas. A win at home would cinch the series, and by proxy, give them a leg up both in the race for the division, and thus also potential postseason seeding. A division championship certainly isn’t something most teams would be rallying around in the locker room, but for a young, upcoming team, it would be surprising if they’re not motivated at least a little bit by the opportunity to do something the franchise has never accomplished.
Make their own luck
The 2022 Mavericks have been defined by two things: playing great defense and winning a bunch of games. Honestly, this is the most positive stretch of play we’ve seen from the Mavericks in a good while. The team seems to have bought in fully to Kidd’s defensive scheme and attitude and, more importantly, are executing it at a high level.
The defensive numbers for Dallas have been gaudy. Since January 1st, Dallas leads the league in defensive ratings by an absolutely stupid margin. They’re the only team in the league with a sub-100 rating at 99.2, and the next closest team is Phoenix with a 104.3. As much as I’d like to believe Dallas just woke up and decided to be an all-world defensive team, a certain portion of it is simply shooting luck. Especially when it comes to opponents’ three point percentage.
Holding a team to 28% beyond the arc is great and all, but perhaps not sustainable. What would give them a little more cushion now is if they could start to find their own shot from distance. Dallas has gotten hot (shot over 40%) from three just twice in 11 games. Luka Doncic’s mental block has not been helping in that regard as the team’s highest volume three point shooter at eight per game. The margin of error will widen a great deal if Dallas can simply shoot above league average from three and not have to depend on holding opponents to historically bad shooting to eek out close wins.
Last time these two teams played, I was expecting to see a clash of styles. Memphis’ get out and run, high pace offense versus Dallas’ methodical half court, high pick and roll actions. What ended up happening was Dallas outscored Memphis on fast break points 23 to 11 and blew the game wide open in the fourth quarter. They led by as much as 31 before settling into a 25 point victory.
Memphis was a team that simply ran out of gas. They were playing their fourth game in five nights, and what had been an extremely competitive game through three quarters got blown wide open by a fresher Dallas squad. Not the case this time. Dallas does have one more day of rest, but neither will be on a back to back, so Dallas won’t have the luxury of simply hanging around until Memphis gasses out.
Now, it remains to be seen whether Memphis will have the services of Mavericks killer and villain Desmond Bane or Kyle Anderson as they remained in health and safety protocols for Memphis’ Friday night victory against Denver, so there is a chance Dallas might get lucky again with a largely healthy roster.
How to watch
You can watch the broadcast on Bally Sports at 6:30 CST.