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Mavericks vs. Pelicans Preview: 3 things to watch for as Dallas hosts New Orleans

The Mavericks begin a Western Conference gauntlet

Thursday night’s home game against the New Orleans Pelicans marks the beginning of a torrid stretch of games — eight straight against teams .500 or better, all of whom are fighting for playoff seeding within a tightly contested Western Conference.

While the Mavericks had a rough January of injuries and defensive struggles, the Pelicans had an arguably worse stretch. While missing their top two players in Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram, the division rival went 3-13 for the month and have lost nine straight after ending December near the top of the west standings at 23-13.

Here are a few things to watch for!

More video game numbers from Luka

In Monday night’s game against the Detroit Pistons, Luka Doncic scored 53 points to the rest of the team’s 58. In his career, he’s scored his fifth highest average against the Pelicans, including 49 last year. Before this season, his four highest career totals were in February. We know Luka often goes on heaters over a stretch of games, much like he did in late December in the team’s seven game winning streak, and the aforementioned signs point to another.

January was a little more hit or miss, as Luka appeared to wear down from the weight of carrying the team’s creation burden, concluding with his recent ankle injury. Seemingly rested, without his premier scoring partner in Christian Wood, one might feel safe betting the over on Luka’s point total.

The wounded, but talented, Pelicans

As previously stated, the Pelicans are struggling, but they still have plenty of athleticism and scoring punch. The Mavericks are lucky that Zion Williamson remains out, as there is no player on earth, except for Giannis Antetokoumpo, more capable of exploiting their rim protection weakness. Still, Brandon Ingram is back after missing 29 games. He’s shot poorly while shaking off the rust, but he and CJ McCollum bring plenty of points on their own, and this could easily be the game where Ingram looks like himself.

Despite their losing streak with McCollum as the lone member of their big three, the Pelicans are deep elsewhere, with the kind of rangy, youthful athletes that often give the older, slower Mavericks trouble. They are deep with wings after gobbling them up in recent drafts (watch out for Trey Murphy III, a personal favorite sporting 48-40-92 shooting splits), and Jonas Valencuinas is the exact kind of bruiser that can exploit Dwight Powell on the boards.

Spencer Dinwiddie’s balancing act

Spencer Dinwiddie did an admirable job of filling in for Luka in his two-game absence, scoring 71 points over the combined two games, including 11 threes and a whopping 24 (!) free throw attempts. Then, in Luka’s first game back, he struggled mightily, going 5-of-16, his worst shooting performance in over a month.

The discourse about playing next to Luka often lacks nuance, but it’s true that basketball players often benefit from the rhythm, urgency and aggression that comes from leading an offense for an entire game. Dinwiddie leads the bench unit without Luka though, and he isn’t always that blistering. How does he find a way to be the player we saw over that two-game stretch, both with Luka and while leading the bench? That question is of utmost importance right now; we just witnessed a game where Luka almost matched the point total of the entire rest of the team, and Christian Wood’s return is still a week or more away.

How to watch

You can watch on Bally Sports Southwest or NBA League Pass if you’re outside the DFW area. Tip-off is set for 7:30 p.m.