The Dallas Mavericks once again play on the NBA’s prime day of the year, on Christmas Day on the road against the Phoenix Suns.
This will be a fun match up for a multitude of reasons: Christmas Day for the NBA is basically their regular season Super Bowl, which is fun! Also the Suns and Mavericks have developed a pretty heated rivalry since the Mavericks beat the Suns in a seven-game series back in the 2022 Playoffs. Since then there have been dust-ups and tempers flaring in almost every match up since. It’s fun to see two teams that don’t like each other.
This game marks a four-game stretch for Dallas against teams currently all at .500 or above, with three of the four on the road. Dallas has fattened up its 17-12 record by mostly feasting on lesser squads, so these will be good measuring stick games for the Mavericks.
Here are three things to watch.
Luka making history
Doncic enters Christmas Day only 11 points away from 10,000 points — a feat only five other players did wearing a Mavericks uniform. Doncic will easily be the youngest in franchise history to hit the mark.
It’s will be a good moment for Doncic, who is currently in the middle of an MVP-quality season. Doncic has put the Mavericks on his back in the month of December, despite injuries to key players like Kyrie Irving, Josh Green, Maxi Kleber, and Dereck Lively.
In December Doncic is almost averaging a triple double at 36 points, 11 assists, and 9.5 rebounds per game. He’s doing it with a larger usage rate than what he was doing earlier in the season, along with averaging almost 40 minutes per game. Doncic got a rest last week against Houston, then returned Saturday against the Spurs and picked up right where he left off, leading the Mavericks to a huge win.
Not only is Doncic breaking the 10,000 point mark on Christmas inevitable, he might even do it in the first quarter. It’s a shame the West is so competitive and injuries have zapped the Mavericks ability to really compete against the best of the league — if the Mavericks could find a way to get into the top three of the West, Doncic could win MVP.
Are the Suns a wounded animal?
The Suns had a crazy offseason, sending out 2021 Finals starters DeAndre Ayton and Chris Paul, replacing them with All-Star guard Bradley Beal and Jusuf Nurkic. That’s in addition to the previous season’s trade deadline, where the Suns overhauled their roster with the trade for Kevin Durant.
That means for Mavericks fans that might not be as locked in, the Suns team you will be watching on Christmas is very different from the one the Mavericks tangled with in the 2022 playoffs. In fact Devin Booker is the only Suns player remaining from that roster.
For how that new roster is doing, it’s...not great. Phoenix went all in on older, injury prone players like Durant and Beal and unsurprisingly, the Suns have had a mostly injured season. Beal has barely played with Durant and Booker, and even with Durant being healthy most of the season, the Suns are in a tailspin at 14-14 and currently 11th in the West, outside of the play-in.
Nurkic has been at best a lateral move at center, and at times a flat downgrade with poor defense. The veteran minimum moves to fill out the roster around the three expensive stars haven’t really worked out and the Suns have been floundering to try and find a stable five-man group new coach Frank Vogel trusts. Vogel is also proving to be a puzzling hire so far — a coach known for defense and having a big man to anchor said defense is tasked with coaching a team without much defense and a big man in Nurkic that can’t guard the rim well.
Still, the Mavericks shouldn’t overlook this game. The Suns are at home on national TV — expect to get their best shot, especially from Durant and Booker. Beal will be out again, with a sprained ankle suffered last week.
Can the Mavericks get stops?
Without Dereck Lively, the Mavericks have given up a parade to the rim, even in the wins. Dallas’ defense wasn’t great overall even with Lively healthy, but without him, the Mavericks are drowning in the deep end of the pool.
The Suns don’t pressure the rim a ton, since Durant and Booker like their midrange jumpers. Dallas needs to keep it that way, and the Mavericks wing rotation (Grant Williams, Derrick Jones Jr., Dante Exum, Tim Hardaway Jr.) need to be ready to guard. AJ Lawson has impressed lately filling in some of the holes left from injuries, and his speed and athleticism could be useful in a game against a slower, older team.