The Dallas Mavericks (7-2) visit the New Orleans Pelicans (4-5) for a divisional matchup on Sunday. This will be the first of two straight games for the Mavericks in New Orleans.
The Pelicans started the season strong, going 4-1 in their first five games, but they are currently on a four-game losing streak and are pretty banged up. Veteran guard C.J. McCollum has been out with a small pneumothorax (collapsed lung) since the Pelicans’ loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Nov. 4, and he will miss this game as well. Jose Alvarado and Trey Murphy have also been ruled out, and Naji Marshall and Herb Jones are both listed as questionable as of the Pelicans’ Saturday afternoon injury report.
The Mavericks will be missing Maxi Kleber, who is expected to be out for at least two weeks as he continues to deal with a toe injury. Dallas will look to build off of their dominant win Friday against the Clippers and get off to a good start to a four-game road trip.
A rare battle between Zion and Luka
Meetings between the two players most often compared to LeBron James have been few and far between, as this is just the third time that Luka Dončić and Zion Williamson will face off, and the first time since Feb. 12, 2021. Zion missed all of the 2021-22 season with a foot injury and only played in 29 games last season, but when healthy he is a force to be reckoned with. The Mavericks have struggled with size to start the season, and it would be very surprising if Zion is not able to take advantage of that weakness and brute force his way into the paint with nightmarish regularity. Grant Williams will likely be the primary defender on Zion, and Williams will need to stay out of foul trouble as the Mavericks’ other wings are all much too small to handle Zion’s freakish combination of strength and speed.
Can the Mavericks start to build some defensive momentum?
The Mavericks’ offense has been humming to start the season, generating 121.6 points per 100 possessions (second most in the NBA), but Dallas continues to struggle on defense, allowing their opponents to score 116.0 points per 100 possessions (making them the 24th-ranked defense in the NBA). The Mavericks are allowing their opponents to score 57.8 points in the paint per game (3rd most allowed in the NBA), and even though Dereck Lively II has been impressive protecting the paint when he is in the game, there is only so much he can do when the Mavericks’ perimeter defenders are constantly being blown by or getting caught out of position. The Pelicans currently have the third-least efficient offense in the NBA, so it would be highly discouraging if the Mavericks could not take advantage of New Orleans’ short-handedness and have a wire-to-wire solid defensive performance. If the Mavericks want to be a top-five seed in the Western Conference and have a higher playoff ceiling than a first or second-round exit, they will need to go from a bottom-third defense to at least middle-of-the-pack.
Josh Green desperately needs a bounce-back game
Green has had a difficult start to the season. In the four games since the Mavericks’ loss against the Denver Nuggets on Nov. 3, Green has averaged just 4.8 points per game while shooting 36.8% from the field and looking lost defensively far too often. His playing time has fallen as he is averaging just 19.6 minutes in that span, and his confidence appears shaken. The Mavericks were counting on Green to make another leap this season when they gave him a 3-year, $41 million extension, but he seems to have taken a step back if anything. In order to become a more reliable contributor, Green needs to develop a better sense of defensive positioning — in particular, he needs to stop over-helping and learn how to navigate screens — and become more decisive and less frantic on offense. Green has always been a frustratingly inconsistent player, but the Mavericks have very limited depth at the wing position, so they need him to turn things around sooner rather than later. Hopefully, this will be the game in which Green can resume his upward growth trajectory and become a positive rotation player once more.
How to watch
You can broadcast or stream the game on Bally Sports Southwest at 6 p.m. CT.