The Dallas Mavericks (18-14) find themselves occupying an unusual in-between space heading into Saturday’s game at the Golden State Warriors (15-16). The Mavericks roster is getting healthier, but at the same time, the setbacks on the court are starting to pile up.
Both teams come into Saturday’s game on the heels of back-to-back losses, but the Mavericks have dropped six of their last nine. Before their most recent two-game skid, the Warriors had dialed up five-straight wins, including an impressive 132-126 overtime win on Dec. 19 at home against the Boston Celtics.
Dereck Lively II and Josh Green are back in action for the Mavs after missing time with injuries. Now star guard Kyrie Irving is starting to show the first signs of progress as he works his way back from the heel injury that has forced him to miss the last 13 games. He is officially listed as doubtful to play Saturday at the Chase Center — it’s the first time he’s been listed as anything other than “out” in that 13-game stretch. So, hey, progress.
There aren’t many trends to take away from the Mavs’ six losses in their last nine games. Dallas has had to shuffle their rotations as the team works its way back to full strength, so it’s hard to put your finger on what exactly is going wrong, other than the fact that the Mavs have been missing key players in all of them.
Seth Curry has responded well to his additional minutes, scoring a season-high 19 against Cleveland and 11 points at Minnesota in the Mavericks’ last two losses. Dante Exum suddenly looks like a value-add in the starting lineup.
Jaden Hardy has been more hit-and-miss, and that may be a generous assessment of his recent form. He was productive in losses at Minnesota (17 points, 3-of-8 on 3-point attempts) and at home against the Clippers (15 points, 5-of-9 on 3-point attempts), but other than that, Hardy has been inconsistent, to say the least.
Grant Williams hasn’t had much of an impact recently, and Derrick Jones Jr. has lost a little bit of his early shooting touch from outside as well. Dallas is treading water right now while Luka Dončić exerts maximum effort in maximum minutes per game to keep this ailing roster on the right side of mediocre.
Dončić is officially listed as questionable going into Saturday’s game, which is the front end of another back-to-back set. He sat out against Minnesota with quad soreness on the second night of a back-to-back Thursday.
Here are three things to watch for as the Mavericks try to raise the bar a notch past mediocrity, and get back to their winning ways, in San Francisco.
In his three games back since spraining his ankle on Dec. 16 against the Portland Trail Blazers, Lively has had one brilliant game, a 20-point, 10-rebound game on a Christmas Day win at the Suns, and two stinkers. He got into early foul trouble in the losses to Cleveland and Minnesota and was bullied by their bigger, badder frontcourts when he was on the floor.
The 19-year-old rookie has scored just six points and grabbed just eight rebounds combined in the team’s last two games. It’s important to remind ourselves of his age in times like these. Getting bullied when he’s 19 years old is how Lively develops as a player — it’s a necessary part of his career arc.
What we’re looking forward to is how Lively responds Saturday against Golden State. Like they are in so many important team stats (offensive rating, defensive rating, scoring) entering Saturday’s game, the Warriors are a middle-of-the-pack team when it comes to giving up points in the paint this year. Saturday could be an opportunity for Lively to bounce back on the offensive end, especially if the Mavs can get back to consistently executing in the Luka-to-Lively pick-and-roll set.
But let’s not mince words any longer here. This is a matchup between the team that has made the second-most 3-pointers in the NBA this season (Dallas, 494) and the team that has made the fourth-most (Golden State, 455). The Celtics lead the league with 499 3-pointers so far this year. The team that gets off to a hotter start from the 3-point line is going to have a distinct advantage on Saturday.
Dončić has taken his step-back 3-pointer to a whole new level this year, and Steph Curry is still Steph Curry. Steph Curry leads the NBA with 136 made 3-pointers this year, and Dončić is second, with 116. Tim Hardaway Jr. and Klay Thompson are both among the league leaders as well, at 97 apiece.
Only Steph Curry comes into the matchup in the top 50 in 3-point shooting percentage, though. Steph is hitting 3-pointers at a 41.0% clip, while Dončić is making 38.4% of his 3-point attempts this season.
Warriors’ opponents have hit 34.0% of their 3-point attempts this year, while the Mavs have allowed 37.1% 3-point shooting to their opponents.
This will be the 18th time Seth Curry and Steph Curry have played against each other in an NBA game and the 14th in the regular season. Perhaps not surprisingly, Steph’s team is 13-4 overall and 9-4 in those regular season matchups.
But Seth is 7-for-13 from 3-point territory in his last two games, while Steph is just 5-for-21 in the same span. Steph’s current cold snap actually extends across the last three games, when he has hit just 7-of-28 from distance.
If those trends continue on Saturday, it could be a long day for big brother and his Golden State Warriors.
How to watch
Tipoff between the Mavericks and the Warriors is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Bally Sports Southwest.