The Dallas Mavericks (31-28) are set to face the Denver Nuggets (40-18) in their final game before the All-Star break. This road tilt is a rematch of one of the best Dallas wins of the year and comes on the heels of two losses that featured last-possession frustrations for the Mavs.
The Mavericks fell at home to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday night at the American Airlines Center, 124-121. It was a roller coaster game that saw the Mavericks fall behind by 26 in the 3rd quarter only to be vaulted back into the contest by an incredible performance by their newly acquired all-star guard, Kyrie Irving. His 26 points in the fourth quarter gave him 36 for the game and created a moment of truth possession with Dallas trailing by 3 - needing a long-range connection to force overtime. The T-Wolves played great defense and flustered the Maverick backcourt into scrambling for the final 15 seconds without offering up a shot.
The Nuggets return from a 2-1 road trip and look to get revenge on Dallas for the one-point loss they suffered back in December. The current number-one seed features the reigning MVP, a strong supporting cast, and a 26-4 home record. This will not be easy.
Finding Common Ground
The partnership between Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving is both explosive and a work in progress. During Monday’s loss Minnesota Irving spent much of the first three quarters as a spot-up corner shooter watching Doncic call for screens at the top of the key. Through three quarters, Irving had 10 points. While that number might make more sense on a night where Dallas was scoring up and down the roster, the Mavericks were struggling to score enough to keep up with the layup line the Timberwolves were running. Minnesota outscored Dallas in the paint 64-54 but that margin was even more pronounced after three quarters.
What Irving did was remarkable and borderline heroic - yet one has to wonder if the Mavericks could have involved him in more possessions early in the game to buoy their scoring and make the third-quarter hole not quite as deep. It is clear Irving is a fourth-quarter specialist and equally apparent he does not want to ruffle feathers by absorbing too many possessions on a team he just joined.
Can Doncic and Irving find a way to involve each other in a way that puts pressure on opposing defenses rather than your turn, my turn ball that is far less interesting and far easier to defend?
If the Mavericks could pluck any non-MVP player from Denver, odds are high it would be Aaron Gordon. Since coming over from the Orlando Magic, Gordon has found a home in Denver. Imagine you could go into a laboratory and combine elements from Josh Green (athleticism and hustle) and Dorian Finney-Smith (defensive intensity and solid rebounding) and you start to get a clear picture of what Gordon brings.
Gordon is a fantastic compliment to the frontcourt for Denver and is the sort of highly impactful player just outside of all-star consideration toiling away on a bad team that can truly blossom through a well-timed trade.
With so much draft capital being required to pry loose all-star talent, the next Dallas trade target may well be a lesser-known player in a similar position to the one Gordon was in his Orlando days. For this game, it is going to be up to a beleaguered Mavs frontcourt to keep Gordon off the glass and out of fast-break situations.
Last of Us, Final Possession Style
The Mavericks under Rick Carlise were one of the best teams in the NBA out of timeouts and in last-possession scenarios. Jason Kidd has yet to find his footing as a set play-caller out of timeouts and certainly, the final possession play-calls have been so chaotic and/or predictable that the entire arena knows what is coming. Now a brutal 0-11 in game-winning or game-tying final possessions, Dallas must address this issue during the All-Star break if they want to have a fighting chance to win close games. A good start would be having your three best shooters on the floor with Doncic and Irving for a possession that demands a three. Whether Jason Kidd will embrace this reality or not, that short list includes Christian Wood.
Where to watch
You can catch the Mavericks and Nuggets at 8 pm CST on Bally Sports Southwest