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Mavericks vs Wizards Preview: 3 things that make Mavericks game against Wizards worth watching

Name an NBA team with better vibes than the Mavs right now. You can’t do it.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Dallas Mavericks
Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) celebrates with Dallas Mavericks guard Kyrie Irving (11) during the second half against the Oklahoma City Thunder at American Airlines Center.
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

What a difference a trade deadline makes.

The vibes are immaculate once more as the Dallas Mavericks (30-23) prepare to host the lowly Washington Wizards (9-43) at the American Airlines Center Monday on the second of a four-game homestand.

A win would extend the Mavericks’ current streak to five games with a home game against the San Antonio Spurs waiting on the horizon. The Mavs’ dispensed with the Wizards 130-117 on Nov. 14 in the two teams’ only other meeting this season behind 31 points from Tim Hardaway Jr. and 26 and 10 assists from Luka Dončić.

And even though the Mavs still aren’t restored to 100% full health just yet, they’ll have much more ammo at their disposal against the Wizards the second time around than they did in the first. First and foremost, Kyrie Irving (and Dončić and Maxi Kleber) are all listed as probable on the injury report. Trade deadline newcomers Daniel Gafford and P.J. Washington proved to be immediate plug-and-play weapons in their first game with the Mavericks as well.

Dereck Lively II (broken nose) and Dante Exum (knee bursitis) are still out for the game against Washington. This is Lively’s seventh straight game out and Exum’s ninth.

Washington scored 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting and grabbed five rebounds in a nice debut while Gafford really raised some eyebrows in his first game with the team, a massive 146-11 blowout win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. He lived above the rim and looked like he’d been receiving lobs from Dončić for years on his way to 19 points and nine boards on 7-of-11 shooting. The Mavericks turned in one of their most impressive performances on the boards all season in the pair’s debut, out-rebounding the Thunder, 54-40.

It may end up being a laugher, but here are three things that make this game worth tuning into anyway.

A way-too-early Gafford Revenge Game

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Dallas Mavericks
Dallas Mavericks center Daniel Gafford (21) reacts during the second half against the Oklahoma City Thunder at American Airlines Center.
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Does the fact that Monday’s game is just his second game with the Mavericks make it too early to declare this a Daniel Gafford Revenge Game? We wouldn’t mind any manufactured excuse if it gives Gafford the juice like he had in his first game with the Mavericks.

Gafford showed off his great length and athleticism, springy hops, his fighting spirit to get to contested loose balls, body control in a crowded lane and a feathery soft touch inside, honed by four years of attacking the basket with that unique mix of skill and aggression. Gafford’s tenacity matched with his cerebral competency is a sweet thing to see in a Dallas big man.

Injuries push newcomers into the spotlight

The Mavs are down Lively and Exum — a post and a wing. Luckily enough, their trade deadline acquisitions were — wouldn’t you know it — pretty good finds at both post and wing. Joining the Mavs at this specific time presents them with a unique opportunity to be essential in the lineup right away.

There was by necessity no get-acquainted buffer where Gafford and Washington could be eased into the lineup and get a feel for how the team operates before diving into their role. Their first game was against one of the best teams in the NBA through 52 games, and both would have been playing high-leverage minutes if it came down to it. But it didn’t — which turned the newcomers’ first game in Dallas into an impromptu celebration of trade deadline bounty.

Gafford and Washington will be in a similar situation until Lively and Exum return — immediately indispensable on a team that can all of a sudden become truly dangerous.

The quest for five straight

Saturday’s win against the Thunder gave the Mavs their third four-game win streak of the year. That’s right, I’m old enough to remember when the Mavs were a lowly 26-23 and had lost eight of 12 — enough for many fans to activate their panic early warning systems, and for a few unhinged ones to begin to panic outright. Dallas won the first four games of the year, and won four more in a row in early December as Exum began to emerge as an offensive threat.

All it will take to establish a new season-best win streak is to beat one of the worst teams in the league. Only the Detroit Pistons (8-44) have a worse record than Washington going into Monday’s slate of NBA games. A win puts them in line for six in a row against the Spurs (10-43), who are just a half-game better than the Wizards on the season so far, on Wednesday.

The Mavs have been much tidier this season about putting away teams they’re clearly better than, but that doesn’t mean they don’t still share some DNA with the team that went 21-25 against losing teams last season. You can’t overlook a team that has players like Kyle Kuzma (21.8 points per game, 6.3 rebounds) and Jordan Poole (15.8 points, 3.7 assists), who can fill it up under the right circumstances. If the Mavs are locked in, this game represents a great opportunity to get Dončić and Irving a little rest toward the end of the evening.

How to watch

Tipoff between the Wizards and the Mavs at American Airlines Center is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. You can tune in on Bally Sports Southwest.