The Dallas Mavericks head to the Big Apple Tuesday to take on the Brooklyn Nets. Both teams will be entering the second night of a back-to-back, so some tired legs could be expected. Dallas has won the last seven contests against the Nets and hasn’t lost in Brooklyn since 2019. The last five games between these two teams were settled by a margin of 5 or fewer points.
The Mavericks took care of business against a wounded Sixers team on Monday. They need to keep the momentum rolling against the Nets, who are currently 20-29 and look to be headed south. The all-star break looms, and the Mavericks need to be above water when the home stretch kicks off in mid-February. Winning these games against bad teams is crucial.
Here are three things to watch for as Dallas hits the tri-state area on Tuesday:
Will Doe-Doe suit up for the Nets?
For Dorian Finney-Smith, Monday’s matchup against Golden State will mark his fourth consecutive missed game due to a right ankle sprain. Here’s hoping he’s back in action on Tuesday to play defense against close buddy Luka Doncic. There’s been a lot of noise in the rumor mill about a potential reunion with Finney-Smith and the Mavericks. Trade deadline speculation can be fun, but it can also be exhausting.
That said, I would love to see Finney-Smith back in Dallas. He remains one of the best defensive players the Mavs organization has had in the past five years, and his energy and spirit are seemingly infinite. His offense isn’t as strong as his defense, and it doesn’t need to be. He’s a defensive-minded wing, and a seasoned veteran that can be relied upon to hit touch and shoot threes in big moments, which he excels at. The Finney-Smith Mavericks jersey in my closet is trying to will its way back into relevance.
It’s been recently reported that the Nets have already turned down two first rounders in exchange for Finney-Smith. Even if Dallas could facilitate a trade to bring him back, would his return provide enough of a catalyst on the defensive side of the ball to change this squad’s identity on D? It would help, no doubt, but without the addition of another capable rim-protecting big-man, our defensive woes seem set to linger on. Expect a status update on his availability by Monday evening.
Will Luka be 100%?
Speaking of the injury bug, Doncic again tweaked his right ankle in Saturday’s loss to the Bucks. He returned to play after briefly heading into the locker room, but he only managed to put up a 40-9-11 stat line by the end of the game. This is typical production from Doncic, and is usually enough to get the job done for Dallas, as the Mavs are 9-0 in all the other games this season in which Luka has hit 40 or more points (the first of which was at home against the Nets back in October). Doncic looked fine Monday night against the 76ers, though, despite his less than spectacular stat line. Even better, he only played 36 minutes, which means he got some much needed rest.
More to the point, though, we’re reaching that time of the regular season where minor injury tweaks can really start taking a toll on players’ bodies, when continued play allows nagging ailments to really set in. Luka is always the first to play through injuries, be it ankle rolls, quad soreness, or elbows to the face (the latter of which has become a frequent occurrence this season). As much as such willingness from Doncic puts his constant valor and resilience on display, it’s also a troubling situation, given that the Mavs stand no chance of advancing in the playoffs if Luka can’t rest his body leading up to that point. Dallas is 3-5 this season in games that he’s had to sit, and one of those wins came against a Trail Blazers team that currently has only 15 wins.
Alas, it’s a conundrum that all teams must puzzle over when injuries are a concern. Rest your star players a few games too many, maybe miss the playoffs altogether. Fingers crossed for Luka’s physical return to a clean bill of health, as Dallas is currently approaching the mid-season mark riding a 4-6 record over the past 10 games and are sitting at 8th in the Western Conference with a 27-23 record. Once you also consider the various other injuries to the rest of Jason Kidd’s preferred starting lineup over the course of the past six weeks, it doesn’t take a crystal ball to see that it will take a great reversal of fortune on the injury front for the Mavs to compete down the stretch in a very strong Western Conference.
Will the Mavs have success on defense against the Nets without Dereck Lively II?
Lively is set to undergo surgery on Monday to reset the broken nose he was handed last Monday in Orlando. It’s said he’ll be sporting a mask upon his return to play. While that likely isn’t the ideal accessory for the rookie from a comfort standpoint, my money says it’s going to look cool as hell. That said, the odds would seem against his return to the starting lineup just one day after having surgery on a broken nose.
Without Lively, the Mavericks’ defense this season has typically taken on the semblance of something like a two-legged horse – not quite the formidable wild animal the mascot is meant to conjure up in the imagination. That’s not to take issue with the effort provided by the rest of the starters. The effort has been there lately, and it’s obvious that Luka is hell-bent on making defense a big part of his repertoire. Somebody almost always shows up to play defense; sometimes almost everyone does.
But you can’t win games if you can’t protect the rim and outrebound the opposition. Without Lively, there just isn’t anyone on the roster that possesses the physical attributes and raw talent to achieve those requirements on a nightly basis. Maxi Kleber being back helps, but his body has been through the ringer, and there’s no telling what version of him Dallas will get from night to night. No doubt, Nic Claxton, Mikal Bridges, and Cam Thomson of the Nets are going to make the Dallas defense work for it on Tuesday. Though, as a final sentiment, I must say that watching Derrick Jones Jr. occasionally disrupt plays and grab boards in a sea of 7-footers is true basketball entertainment.
How to watch
The game tips off at 6:30 p.m. CST on TNT.