After a largely unsuccessful five-game road trip, the Dallas Mavericks return to the friendly confines of the American Airlines center for a battle with Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks. This will be the first time these two teams meet this season and, of course, the 2018 NBA draft means that any Dallas and Atlanta matchup will be sensationalized. The latest chapter in this “rivalry” finds the Hawks at 22-22 on the season; however, they enter this contest riding a three-game win streak. Having lost four out of their last five games, Dallas desperately needs to protect home court and emerge with a victory. Here are three things to keep an eye on as they aim to do just that:
Reinforcements are coming
On Tuesday evening, Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Dorian Finney-Smith and Josh Green are likely to return to the lineup against the Hawks after lengthy absences. Their return could not come at a better time, as Tim Hardaway Jr. was already ruled out for a second straight game with an ankle sprain, joining Maxi Kleber on the shelf. Green and Finney-Smith are the best defensive wings on the Mavs’ roster by a country mile and they have been missed in such a dire way that it almost feels impossible to describe. Even though both players are likely to be at less than 100 percent, having them available against the Hawks is such a massive shot in the arm. The struggling Maverick defense hit rock bottom over the weekend in Portland, giving up 276 points in 96 minutes of game action. Hopefully, these reinforcements re-energize the team on that end of the floor; whatever help they provide on offense is gravy.
How will the Mavericks handle Trae Young?
Young is having a bit of a down year shooting the ball, but he’s improved his percentages over the last 10 games (46.9 FG%, 39.2% from three) and is still averaging 27 points and 10 assists per-game on the season. Simply put, he’s a problem offensively and you need to scheme around him. In the past, the Mavericks have had success blitzing Young out of the pick and roll and forcing the ball out of his hands. We know that Jason Kidd loves to employ this strategy against superstar players. However, Dejounte Murray’s presence as a high-end secondary playmaker makes this coverage a little more risky than in years past. Additionally, Onyeka Okongwu has emerged as a threat in the middle of the floor and Atlanta has an impressive array of shooters who can attack closeouts. Kidd and the Mavericks will need to mix up coverages against Young and stay focused and tied together. Having Josh Green available as a point-of-attack defender should help a ton with that.
Who wins the turnover battle?
Both the Mavericks and Hawks are extremely low turnover teams, coming in at second (12.4) and third (12.9) in the NBA, respectively, in turnovers per-game. It makes sense when you think about it; both teams employ extremely high usage guards who handle the ball far more than anyone else on the roster. They ask the gifted decision makers to make decisions, letting them rack up turnovers while the rest of the roster keeps giveaways to a minimum. What’s interesting is that the Mavericks are 29th in the league in pace, while Atlanta comes in at 8th. The Hawks are able to push the ball and run in transition off turnovers without sacrificing additional turnovers on the other end of the floor. If the Mavericks are able to win the turnover battle with Atlanta, they should look to push the pace a little more, especially with Josh Green and Jaden Hardy in the rotation. Whichever team gets more easy buckets in transition could walk away with the win.
How to watch
Tipoff is at 6:30 p.m. CT on ESPN.