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3 things to watch for as the Mavericks welcome Rick Carlisle and the Pacers to the AAC

Dallas will look to impress their old coach Saturday night.

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Rick Carlisle will make his return to the American Airlines Center as the Dallas Mavericks face off against against his Indiana Pacers Saturday night in Dallas. The first meeting between these two teams on Dec. 10 was one of the low points in the Mavs’ season. Carlisle missed that game in Indiana with COVID-19 but the Pacers embarrassed a sluggish Dallas team 106-93. ESPN’s Trade Machine got a serious bump that week.

That game seemed like a breaking point for Dallas. They immediately shut Luka Doncic down to give the knee and ankle he’d sprained in November time to fully heal. Then everyone got COVID, and Dallas was forced to stay afloat with players on 10 day contracts. Somehow, during all of that, the Mavs managed to find their identity as a rugged defensive squad, and now Luka is back to being the triple double hunting machine we know and love. Since that meeting in December, Dallas has gone 16-8 and are in fifth place in the West while Indiana has only managed to win six games in that time and are thirteenth in the East. This is very much a contest between two teams going in opposite directions.

Things to keep an eye on during the game.

Kristaps Porzingis vs. Rick Carlisle

Rick is certain to get a very warm welcome from Mavs fans and the organization. I even expect Kristaps Porzingis to smile and hug him, BUT I also suspect Porzingis is hoping to have a big game versus the coach that, fair or not, parked him in the corner during last season’s first round series against the Clippers. There was talk that Porzingis was hoping to be traded until Carlisle decided to call it quits with the Mavericks in June. This was the first healthy offseason for Porzingis since coming to Dallas and he’s responded with a more patient offensive game (if still inconsistent) and renewed mobility and energy on the defensive end that has gotten him back in the upper echelons of rim protecting bigs.

Look for lots of early touches for Porzingis as the Mavs look to get him into a rhythm. Hopefully, he’ll remain patient and be able put up the kind of performance that says, “I betcha wish you still had all this!”

Another game against a bad defensive team

Fresh off of scoring 132 points in a blow-out win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night, the Mavs have a chance to face a Pacers team that just gave up 158 to Charlotte and 385 points in their last three games combined! Indiana is in a terrible way on that end of the court. They’re currently 24th in team defensive rating and are missing their defensive anchor, Myles Turner, who averages nearly three blocks per game.

If the ball moves for the Mavs like it did on Wednesday in Portland, then Dallas should be able to put up a big number in front of their home crowd.

Indiana’s Health & Energy

The Pacers will be on the second night of a back to back and will be missing Myles Turner, T.J. Warren, and T.J. McConnell. Malcom Brogdon is also unlikely to play as he’s nursing a sore achilles.

Domantas Sabonis missed four straight with an ankle sprain before returning to the lineup in Fridays 113-110 overtime win against the Thunder where he and Caris Lavert both played 43 minutes. One would expect to see some jelly legs in the second half from Indiana. A well rested Mavs team playing against their old coach should be able to take advantage.

How to watch

The game is an early tipoff at 6 p.m. CST on Bally Sports Southwest and NBA League Pass.