Positivity is the play as the Dallas Mavericks (19-14) travel to Utah for a New Year’s Day matchup against the Jazz (14-19) at the Delta Center. Despite injuries and a few recent stumbles, there’s reason for optimism in both the Mavs’ chances to get their second win in a row Monday and in the team’s overall trend line headed into 2024.
Six Mavericks scored in double figures in Saturday’s 132-122 win at Golden State, led, of course, by Luka Dončić, who scored a game-high 39 points, grabbed eight rebounds and dished 10 assists. Rookie big man Dereck Lively II responded with a solid 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting and 14 boards against the Warriors after less-than-stellar performances in losses to Cleveland and Minnesota.
Kyrie Irving is reportedly making progress on his way back from the heel contusion he suffered on Dec. 8 against the Portland Trail Blazers. Irving has missed the team’s last 12 games, but Mavs coach Jason Kidd is hopeful for his chances to play Monday in Utah, according to the Dallas Morning News. He was upgraded to “doubtful” for the first time before the win against the Warriors and is now officially listed as “questionable” ahead of the matchup with the Jazz.
Kidd says there is hope that Irving will play at Utah on Monday, but if not, soon after, when Mavs return home.— Brad Townsend (@townbrad) December 31, 2023
Hope indeed springs eternal in Mavsland, especially considering how Dallas walloped Utah 147-97 in the teams’ first meeting of the year at the American Airlines Center on Dec. 6. More on that after just a little more of my cockeyed optimism. Here are three things to watch when the Mavs square off with the Jazz on Monday.
Can Josh Green turn a corner?
Josh Green’s efficiency on offense was a pleasant surprise Saturday against the Warriors. He scored a season-high 18 points on 6-of-8 shooting, including 3-of-4 from 3-point territory, in his 25 minutes. It was his third game back in action after missing 12 games with an elbow sprain.
Green had gotten off to a slow start to the season before his injury, so we wonder whether the elbow has been an even longer-term issue than the 12 games he missed. Before the injury, Green was flailing around out there, shooting a career-low 42.2% from the field and putting up a disappointing 7.3 points per game.
Another solid outing off the bench would be a good sign that Green is turning the corner. He was one of the most exciting young players on the Dallas roster going into this year after consistently sparking the offense and providing good defensive energy last season.
With the NBA trade deadline a little more than a month away and the Mavs lacking the assets to pull off a marquee move, Dallas could find some incremental improvement if Green simply starts playing up to the 3-year, $41 million contract extension he signed before the season.
Singing a different tune
This will be a different Jazz team than the one the Mavs beat by 50 three-plus weeks ago. Forward Lauri Markannen was not available for Utah in the first meeting and has averaged 23.0 points and 8.6 rebounds per game in the eight games since his return from a hamstring injury.
The Mavericks held Jazz guard Collin Sexton to just seven points on 0-of-4 shooting in 18 minutes in the teams’ first matchup. Sexton has been on a tear lately, though, scoring 20 or more points in his last three games on 58.5% shooting from the field.
The Mavs can’t afford to take anything for granted against Utah. The Jazz come into the matchup having won seven of their last 10 games, so don’t let their sub-.500 record fool you.
No resolution necessary
New Year’s resolutions are great and all, but the one Dallas Maverick who doesn’t need to worry about changing anything right now is Dončić. He has averaged 35 points, eight boards and 10 assists in December, and Mavs fans will gladly take a reproduction of those numbers in the New Year.
In his last eight games, the numbers are even more gaudy. Dončić has scored 39 points, secured 8.9 rebounds and handed out 10.3 assists in that span. His 37.3 points-per-game average in his last 15 games is the highest mark in any 15-game stretch of his career.
Greatness isn’t even the right word for what we’re seeing every night from Dallas’ MVP candidate. This has been otherworldly, and we don’t just mean the stats. He’s making the right reads on almost every decision with the ball in his hands, finding the right shooters when defenses collapse on him and making everyone around him better night in and night out. He’s playing 3-D chess while the revolving door of defenders trying to deal with him are playing checkers.
Utah had no answer for Dončić in the first matchup between these two teams. He racked up a triple-double before halftime and ended the night with 40 points before resting the entire fourth quarter.
Dončić served up a 50-burger on Christmas. Why not try for 60 on New Year’s Day? We’re optimistic.