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Mavericks vs. Grizzlies Preview: 3 things to watch for when Dallas takes on Memphis

The Mavericks take on the Grizzlies for the last time this season.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Mavericks (36-35) head northeast to Tennessee to take on the Memphis Grizzlies (43-27) for the final time this season. Memphis leads the season series 2-1, but it’s unlikely that will matter for tiebreaker purposes, as these two teams currently have a significant gap between them.

A win will be tough for the Mavericks, as they struggle tremendously away from Dallas, sporting a 14-21 record on the road. The Grizzlies, meanwhile, are tough to beat at the FedEx Forum, going 29-5 at home this year.

The Mavericks will possibly be without Luka Doncic again. He’s still dealing with a thigh strain. They’ll also be missing Markieff Morris, who hasn’t seen many minutes with the Mavericks since coming to Dallas in the Kyrie Irving trade. Ja Morant, eligible to return from his eight-game suspension, will not play. The Grizzlies want to give him time to get his legs back.

Here are three things to watch for during the game:

The Mavericks have to match the Grizzlies’ energy

The Mavericks have lost several games this season by simply not being aggressive and playing down to their opponents. They’re notorious for losing to the cellar-dwellers of the NBA this season—the Houston Rockets, the Detroit Pistons, etc. The list goes on. Even more frustrating, they seem to do the same against good teams missing their best players.

They’ll get a chance to reverse that trend tonight. They’re down Doncic, but the Grizzlies are without Morant. That hasn’t mattered much in Memphis the last two seasons. The Grizzlies have won four of their last five games without their electric superstar, who missed a lot of time last year, too. They know they can beat Dallas without Morant. Desmond Bane and Jaren Jackson Jr. are legitimate stars, and they have no fear of the Mavericks.

If Doncic doesn’t play, Irving should be the best player in this game, and the rest of the Mavericks’ supporting cast needs to step up. They can absolutely slow down the Memphis attack, but they’ll have to remain focused on defense. That’s something they haven’t done consistently this year.

Get to the line...and make the free throws

In their last matchup just a week ago, the Mavericks settled for jumpers way too often. They only shot eight free throws the entire game, making six. The Grizzlies were more aggressive, getting 19 trips to the charity stripe. Irving being back will help with that, but the rest of the Mavericks have to attack the paint and look to finish rather than passing out to 3-point shooters. Sometimes that’s the right play, but other times they’ve got to look to score. And because it’s the Mavericks, we of course have to implore them to actually make some of those free throws.

Protect the pain at least a little

The Grizzlies have outscored the Mavericks in the paint in two out of three games this season. The only time Dallas prevailed in paint scoring was the home opener back in October, when they were plus-2 in paint points. It’s not just on the big men. There’s only so much Dwight Powell, Maxi Kleber, and Christian Wood can do. Big men much better than those three get exposed when the perimeter defense is porous, so if the Dallas wings and guards can’t offer some resistance to penetration on the perimeter, the Mavericks’ bigs have no chance.

Watch out for the Grizzlies’ claws

Only three teams have more steals per game than the Grizzlies. The Mavericks are great at protecting the ball, but Memphis is great at taking it away. Dallas has to stay sharp and focused, making sure to keep some zip on their passes and not get sloppy on the dribble.

How to watch

The game tips off at 7:00 p.m. on NBA TV or Bally Sports Southwest.