January has been unkind to the Dallas Mavericks (25-24), who lost three of the four games in their recent homestand, and are 4-8 this month. Thursday night they pay visit to the Phoenix Suns (25-24), winners of their last four and tied with the Mavericks in the Western Conference.
While the Mavericks have faced extended absence from a collection of key role players over the last month, the Suns have had to battle injury absence from their stars Devin Booker (out, missed 17 of last 20 games) and Chris Paul (recently returned, missed 21 of 49 games). DeAndre Ayton has recently been out with illness, but could return Thursday.
Here are a few things to watch for tonight!
Shutting down around the rim
With the absence of both Maxi Kleber and Christian Wood, the Mavericks have opted to go small rather than give more (or any) minutes to JaVale McGee. Instead they’ve given minutes at the five position to Luka Doncic, Dorian Finney-Smith and David Bertans. While they’ve used that to create some mismatches on offense, they’ve forfeited most resistance around the rim.
Over the last ten games the Mavericks are 30th in the league in creating second chance points for themselves, while also giving up the 10th most second chance points per game in that same span. If Ayton is healthy to return this will be something to closely monitor. In the first two meetings the Suns posted 56 and 48 points in the paint. If the Mavericks’ defensive woes continue the Suns are likely to best that mark Thursday.
Late game execution
This point isn’t a guarantee, game one was a clutch finish but game two this season was decided by 19 points. However the Mavericks’ loss to the Washington Wizards is fresh on the mind so it’s worth seeing how the team responds if given similar circumstances.
The Mavericks have gone 2-2 in clutch games this month, Tuesday’s failing a head-scratching display. A combination of a late missed free throw, an iffy foul call, and back-to-back out of bounds plays left plenty to be desired and resulted in the Mavericks’ loss.
In these four clutch game situations this month the Mavericks were a jarring 4-of-21 from three and 9-of-1 from the line. Dreadful late execution when it matters most. All of this begs mentioning with Thursday’s opposing point guard in mind. While the Suns have had an up and down season, Chris Paul remains a threat in execution in late game decision making.
Some of the idea in surrounding Luka Doncic with an entire roster of shooters would be that different players can go through rough stretches. But what the Mavericks have faced too often this season is multiple key shooters finding group droughts.
Tim Hardaway Jr. has had a rough last five games have been a challenge. He’s shot 12-of-40 from deep, a considerable drop from his season average which was already below his standards. The return of Finney-Smith and Green means less reliance on singular wing support. But the Mavericks need Hardaway’s rhythm. It’s unfortunate that his recent dip pairs with Spencer Dinwiddie going 7-of-22 from three as well.
In their 130-111 win against the Suns in December the team was scorching from deep (20-of-41) and Hardaway, Dinwiddie, and Doncic combined to go 14-of-26. It would be nice to see them regain at least some of that heat tonight.
How to watch
Tip-off is set for 9 PM CST, and can be watched on TNT.