The Dallas Mavericks (23-19) are hanging out in Los Angeles this week, following up Tuesday’s loss to the Los Angeles Clippers with a clash against the Los Angeles Lakers (19-22). Since closing out 2022 on a seven game win streak the Mavericks have gone an unsteady 1-3, with their only win coming against a shorthanded New Orleans Pelicans side. This is their second meeting against the Lakers this season.
Their first matchup, a Christmas afternoon game at the AAC early in the aforementioned win streak, featured a dramatic 51-point third quarter from the Mavericks, outscoring the Lakers by 30 in the frame after trailing by 11 at half. They rode that scoring surge to victory after some early uneven play. Since that holiday bout the Lakers have gone 6-2, inching toward the fringes of a Western Conference play-in spot.
Here is what we’ll watch for in tonight’s rematch:
Starters deciding the game
The Mavericks were poor in the first half of that first game, scoring just 43 first half points. A growing trend lately with Mavericks’ opponents, the Lakers sent early double teams to Doncic. He was a willing passer, but few players hit shots off his delivery. Luka didn’t even attempt a shot until almost eight minutes into the game.
The script was flipped rather dramatically in the second half. Threes were falling from every direction, from every role player on the team. This isn’t an unusual path to success for the Mavericks, though also unreliable. But it was the combination of points from Doncic, Christian Wood, and Tim Hardaway Jr. that sealed the deal. The trio combined for 88 points — Doncic (32), Wood (30), Hardaway (26) — while going 10-of-23 from three. It was the first time a trio of teammates reached 25+ points in a Christmas game since 1962. The Mavericks hit 18 threes on the day.
The Lakers were 9-of-28 from deep, and outside of LeBron James’ 38 points, the rest of the Lakers starters combined for just 32 points. All told the Mavericks starters (with Reggie Bullock’s 14 points and Spencer Dinwiddie’s eight points) outscored the Lakers starters 110-70. Will there be continuation to this story? The Mavericks remain shorthanded, with Dorian Finney-Smith, Josh Green, and Maxi Kleber all still out with injury. They have relied heavily on the starting group and one to two bench players. If they are to find their to victory again, it may require another big performance from the first unit.
Wood became full-time starter the week before this last meeting, and had quite a national coming out party scoring 30 points, eight rebounds, seven assists, four steals and two blocks in the Christmas game. It was in many ways the pinnacle dream of any Doncic-Wood pairing. Their pick-and-roll attack is lethal when clicking on all cylinders. Wood is equal threat as a shooter, where he is shooting 40-percent from deep as a starter, as he is as a lob threat.
He has been a solid option in mismatches, sealing off smaller defenders near the rim, or as a pressure release when Doncic is doubled flashing some ability to pass (that game’s seven assists as evidence). The question is whether he can build on this solid stretch as competition gets stiffer, especially defensively. The Lakers without Anthony Davis may not provide the same kind of presence in the post, but Thomas Bryant has filled in admirably in Davis’ place — he’s averaging 19.4 points and 12 rebounds in the eight games since their last meeting.
Hardy bounce back
With a banged up roster Mavericks rookie Jaden Hardy has stepped into a rotational role over the last four games. As with any rookie there have been mixed returns. He had solid showings in two 15-point outings against the Boston Celtics and New Orleans Pelicans. But he has followed that up with nine points in a larger role against the Oklahoma City Thunder and two points in Tuesday’s loss to the Clippers.
As this is Hardy’s first opportunity at consistent playing time keep an eye on how the young guard responds to a mini-slump. He’s shown an ability to go on solo scoring runs when he finds a rhythm. The Mavericks badly need someone with that ability off the bench. It would be nice to see him show some resiliency Thursday.
How to watch
Tip-off is set for 9 CT and can be watched on TNT.