The Dallas Mavericks (24-22) face plenty of questions in January, and hope to find some answers Friday night when they host the Miami Heat (25-21) at the American Airlines Center. Luka Doncic and co. followed a December win streak by going 4-6 in their last 10 games. It hasn’t turned to complete free fall, but a worrisome stretch before heading into all-star break.
The Heat find themselves at sixth in the Eastern Conference, fighting off the dreaded play-in tournament. They are however playing well of late, winners of 7 of their last 10 games which includes victories over the Milwaukee Bucks (twice, both without Giannis) and the New Orleans Pelicans.
Winning the half court
Both teams will prefer the game play slow and in the half court. That can at times work to a team’s advantage, bypassing any need to battle styles. But the Mavericks often use that clashing to their advantage, so not being able to weaponize this will be worth keeping an eye on. The Mavericks and Heat rank 29th and 28th respectively this season in pace.
Both teams also rank in the top six in the league in turnovers per game and the top nine in turnover-percentage. The Mavericks are desperately searching for any defensive identity, while the Heat has that in their core; a core that often gives the Mavericks annoying trouble. Half-court play could tell the story Friday night.
The Mavericks were lucky to see the return of Dorian Finney-Smith and Josh Green Wednesday night, and the return of Tim Hardaway Jr. Friday. But all happens as the Mavericks announce Christian Wood is out with a fracture in his left hand. It is unclear the severity of the injury, which he sustained on a dunk in the second half of Wednesday’s loss to the Hawks (he played the remainder of the game).
Wood moved into a full-time starting role last month, joining that unit for his last 16 games. The Mavericks went 9-7 in those contests. Much has been debated about Wood’s impact on winning basketball this year. But one thing is for certain: he provided some scoring punch, and the Mavericks are mighty thin in the post. This likely means increased minutes for Dwight Powell, and presumably JaVale McGee. Wood’s interior defense hasn’t been consistent outside of blocking shots, but the team simply doesn’t have the personnel to adequately replace his minutes. Coach Jason Kidd and his staff will need to get creative.
The Mavericks have been bad defensively all season. But it has been especially bad since we hit January. In their nine games this month the Mavericks have a Defensive-rating of 122.6, 29th in the league. They have gone 3-6 in those games, only better than the Houston Rockets who are winless in the same stretch.
Recently it has often felt like a layup line on the opponent’s end of the floor. Whatever defensive rules in place to deny drivers entry have gone out the window, and any resistance deployed on the back line is invisible. So what changes? Effort, I suppose. The Mavericks undoubtedly miss a healthy Maxi Kleber, and are just now seeing the return of two of their best defensive wings. Perhaps their presence, in time, can calm the storm. Seeing any ounce of improvement on that end Friday would be a bright spot.
How to watch
Tip-off is set for 6:30 PM CST, and can be watched on ESPN.