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3 things Mavs fans can trust ahead of a rematch with the Pelicans

Long time no see, Pelicans

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Dallas Mavericks
Dallas Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd yells to his team during the second half of the game against the New Orleans Pelicans at the American Airlines Center.
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Get in, Mavs fans. We’re railing on coach Jason Kidd ahead of the Mavericks’ second game in three days against the New Orleans Pelicans at the American Airlines Center.

You know why it’s come to this. You watched him say it, too. In your consternation after the Mavs’ utter collapse, 118-108 against a Pelicans team that had basically punted Saturday’s game by sitting Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson, CJ McCollum and Trey Murphy III with “injuries” on the second night of a back-to-back set, you stayed tuned into Saturday’s postgame press conferences and watched the words tumble from Mavericks coach Jason Kidd’s slack jaw.

In response to a general question about the up-and-down nature of the past few games, Kidd ended his answer with a pointed truth about Saturday’s game:

“We just couldn’t compete,” Kidd said. “And our physicality wasn’t there tonight.”

And why was that? It was the natural follow-up for a member of the press who was currently talking to the man in charge of the team — the, you know, the coach. Everyone in the room knew a simple “why” was the obvious next question after Kidd’s response, which already reeked of sad, feckless resignation.

But Kidd had the unmitigated gall to follow that gem up with this familiar little chestnut. It’s a refrain that Kidd seems to sing when it has become all too obvious to everyone in the room that he has no real answers and takes no real accountability in the process of coaching this team, if coaching is indeed what he does, at all.

So, why? Why was the physicality just not there on this particular evening? Did you perhaps leave the physicality in your other jacket? Did the dog eat the team’s physicality?

No, it wasn’t either of those things, but be patient with Jason, as he’s still trying to find the first semblance of an answer to the question that everyone can see coming a mile away.

“You’ve got to ask them. I’m just the coach,” Kidd whined as he retreated into his shell, before trotting out the next tired line about, “Tired bodies. We’ve got guys playing a lot of minutes. We’re small. It happens. We’ve got to learn from it and move forward.”

The utter refusal to take any accountability on the part of a man who calls himself “head coach” is never not going to be jarring. It drives me a little more insane each time he nonchalantly shirks the existence of the concept of accountability on a whim in a press conference. For years you’re taught that “the buck stops here” with head coaches. I’ve never seen a coach embody, nay boast, a mentality that is the polar opposite of “the buck stops here” the way Kidd does. That this man is still one of 30 head coaches employed by the most elite basketball league the world ‘round is a sick, perverse joke.

But he was right about one thing. Kidd’s guys better be able to move forward pretty quickly, because they’ll likely play a better version of the same team Monday afternoon as the Mavs (23-17) and Pels (24-16) square off for the final time this season in a Martin Luther King Jr. Day featured game. So here are three things Mavs fans can put a little trust in ahead of this sneaky-crucial game as trust in this team’s “fearless leader” runs thin.

Defending more firepower

The Mavericks have shown no ability to slow down rookie sharp-shooter Jordan Hawkins out of UCONN in the teams’ last two matchups. He has torched the Mavs for 59 combined points in those two Pelicans’ wins, including a season- and career-high 34 points on Saturday. He shot 6-of-12 from 3-point range on Saturday and has combined for 11-of-24 shooting from deep in his last two against Dallas.

Well strap in, Mavs fans, because the Dallas defense is likely to have to deal with at least one, and possibly all four of the missing Pelicans who sat out Saturday with “injuries” because we can’t say “rest.” Depending on how much additional firepower the Mavs can add to their active roster as well, we may be in for a shootout this time around.

Luka Dončić, Dereck Lively II and Dante Exum all missed Saturday’s game due to injury, but Dončić and Lively were deemed “questionable” before Saturday’s game, so there is some hope they may be able to go Monday. It’s murkier for Exum, who has missed the Mavs’ last five games with a heel contusion.

Irving is still an alpha dog

If there were any questions about Kyrie Irving’s status as an apex predator in the NBA, his January stat line would like a word. In seven games back from his heel injury, Irving is averaging 30.3 points, 7.4 rebounds and more than five assists per game, and that includes his first game back, a 14-point clunker against the Jazz on New Years Day. In the last three with Dončić out due to injury, Irving has gone off for a line north of 35/7/7.

His pull-up jumper is as lethal as ever. His innate ability to weave through four defenders and contort his body on the way to the rack is still intact. He seems to instinctively know when to play off Dončić and when to take the scoring burden on his own shoulders. When he’s the first scoring option on the floor for the Mavs, the team doesn’t feel hobbled on offense like many teams do when their first offensive option is unavailable.

Sneaky crucial

NBA fans don’t typically pay as much attention to division standings as fans of other professional sports do — it just doesn’t mean as much. But getting a win Monday would earn the Mavericks a 2-2 tie on the season with the Pelicans. Seeing as the Pels and the Mavs are the two teams on top of the Western Conference’s Southwest Division at the moment, that could come into play come playoff seeding time.

A 2-2 tie in the season series with the Pelicans would not only possibly provide some potential relief in playoff tie-breaker scenarios, it would also provide another piece of evidence that Dallas can indeed hang with good NBA teams, not just blow out bad ones, and occasionally get upset by the bad ones, too.

How to watch

Tipoff between the Pelicans and the Mavericks is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Monday on Bally Sports Southwest.