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Dallas Mavericks vs. Toronto Raptors Preview: Mavs face the high octane North

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Rajon Rondo faces another test as Kyle Lowry and the Toronto Raptors come to Dallas.

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

What has Toronto done lately?

The Raptors were one of the few teams in the NBA not to make a trade at some point this season before last week's trade deadline. They may have been hoping for some internal improvement as key players returned from injury.

Toronto started off hot, winning 15 of their first 20 games before sinking into mediocrity (or above average for the Eastern conference). A solid defensive team last season under former Mavs assistant Dwane Casey, the Raptor's numbers on that side of the ball have dropped off a cliff this season. After finishing with the league's tenth-best defensive rating last season, Casey's squad sits at 17th more than halfway through the season.

The team also went most of December and January without starting shooting guard DeMar DeRozan, an All-Star last season. Since returning from a torn tendon in his left thigh and groin area, DeRozan has averaged 16 points per game.

He's joined in the backcourt by first-time All-Star Kyle Lowry, who posted 25 points, 7 boards and 4 assists in the the Mavs' first meeting with the team on Nov. 28. That was, coincidentally, the game in which DeRozan went down with the injury that would cost him more than 20 games. Together, the two average 36 points, 9 rebounds and 10 assists on the season.

The Raptors are one of the more celebrated teams in the league this season. Not only do they curry favor with Drake but they spawned a social media friendly campaign called #WeTheNorth. All of this would mean little if the team wasn't successful. Currently, the Raptors sit in second place in the Eastern Conference.

Which team stat might determine the game?

The Raptors' defense hasn't been consistent but the team has the third most efficient offense in the league, according to Basketball-Reference, thanks to a high free throw rate and few turnovers. They attempt 25.3 free throws per game and draw a trip to the stripe on 23.5 percent of their field goal attempts. These marks rank them fourth and third in the league respectively. Dallas doesn't commit a great deal of shooting fouls but they will have their hands full with the Raptors.

Dallas will have to keep players like Lowry, DeRozan and reserve guard Louis Williams off the free throw line. And the Mavs will have to do a better job rebounding the ball than they did in that November meeting, when Toronto kept the game close in part thanks to 15 offensive rebounds.

What's the biggest matchup to watch?

The trade that brought Rajon Rondo to the Mavericks still draws ire with some fans. He faces yet another tall task in their eyes Tuesday night. Rondo faces the task of slowing down Kyle Lowry. KLOE is averaging over 18 points per game on about 42 percent shooting. He's also dishing out over seven assists per game and getting 1.5 steals.

Lowry's ability to force turnovers is a cause for concern. Since returning from injury, Rondo is turning the ball over on 29.5 percent of his possessions, up almost eight percentage points. It's a small sample size but it's a seemingly alarming number. Yet, the team continues to find success with him in the starting lineup. How he handles Lowry is but another test.

What do the Mavs need to do to be successful against the Raptors?

While their play might not be aesthetically pleasing, the Mavericks still rank among the top teams in the league. Basketball is a strange game in that regard. In fact, it has been their defense that has carried the team. In the month of February, Dallas has posted a defensive rating of 98.5, per NBA.com, their lowest monthly mark to date. Further, as Chuck Cooperstein, the Mavs' radio play by play broadcaster points out, the team has posted the second best defensive rating in the league over the past 12 games.

It's going to take another concentrated defensive effort if the Mavericks hope to slow down the Raptors' fourth ranked offense, according to NBA.com.

Game Information

7:30 p.m. CT on FSSW