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3 things to watch as the Mavericks face the surprising Utah Jazz

Dallas will have to solve the puzzling Jazz for a shot to get above .500

NBA: Preseason-Dallas Mavericks at Utah Jazz Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Mavericks play host to the Utah Jazz on Wednesday night at the American Airlines Center, with tip off listed at 7:30 pm.

Reports of the Utah Jazz tanking have been greatly exaggerated.

After a playoff series that saw Dallas escort Utah from the postseason, Utah went about dismantling the core of the team that was something of a perennial contender. Gone was Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, arriving were an absolute ransom’s worth of draft picks and a motley crew of players meant to hold down the fort until draft day. Lauri Markkannen had other plans.

The Finnish forward, now on his third team, has emerged as his team’s leading scorer and rebounder, averaging 22.6 and 9.2 respectively per game. Kelly Olynyk is shooting over 50% from the floor, and veteran point guard Mike Conley remains to give the team a solid foundation and seven assists per game on offense. So far, that combination has been good enough for 6-2 start to the season.

They’ll be clashing against a Dallas Mavericks team lead by Luka Doncic who has started the season playing like he’s already in peak performance mode. It’s been up and down for the 3-3 Mavs, but with each game, the rotation has taken clearer and clearer shape. The reintroduction of Dwight Powell over JaVale McGee has reunited Doncic with his favorite lob catcher.

Bench Battle

With a team like the Jazz, who’s been assembled from the island of misfit players, you’d expect that the scoring load would be rather egalitarian, and it is. Lauri leads the way, but six players are averaging double-digit points, and they lead the lead in bench scoring with 44.8 per game. That’s 38% of the scoring load.

As for Dallas, while Luka has been drawing headlines for his early onslaught of points, the team is fourth in the league in bench points with 43.5 per game. Granted, a large portion of that is due to Kidd and company stubbornly keeping Christian Wood coming off the bench, but Tim Hardaway Jr and Maxi Kleber are liable to get hot for any given game.

Stop and go

In terms of play style, Utah and Dallas couldn’t be much different. Utah leads the league in total possessions and has the seventh-highest pace. Dallas, as per usual, is running its slow and methodical half-court offense, largely through Luka Doncic. They have the fewest possessions in the league and the second-slowest pace. It helps them keep turnovers to a minimum and control the flow of the game. In general, if you can force your opponent to play the kind of game you want to play, it benefits you. So, if we suddenly see Dallas frantically running up and down the court, playing fast and loose, or on the reverse, Utah getting slogged down and worked late into the shot clock, it could be a good indication of which squad is more in control.

Finish the 4th

Dallas is 3-3, but the way they’ve come by those losses has been brutal. Giving up double-digit fourth-quarter leads to Phoenix and Oklahoma City, and a not-much-better seven-point lead in their loss to New Orleans.

In their losses, Dallas has posted a -3.3 in the fourth quarter. In their wins, that’s a positive 3.7. A seven-point swing. With the expectation of a blowout against Memphis, Dallas has not built leads big enough to withstand a sloppy fourth quarter.

How to watch

You can broadcast or stream the game on Bally Sports Southwest at 7:30 CST.