Dallas’ last four games have gone win-loss-win-loss, but to continue that trend they’ll need to pass a tough test Friday night in Utah.
The Jazz have won five of six (the one loss being to Golden State), and they got premiere big man Derrick Favors back Wednesday in a blowout of the OKC Thunder. After struggling with injuries earlier in the year, the Jazz are finally starting to look healthier, and that spells bad news for a Mavs squad that continues to be bit by the injury bug.
Embrace small ball...or STOP: Hammons Time
Starting center Salah Mejri is the latest to potentially miss time, as he’s listed as questionable with an ankle issue. Mejri is of course only in the starting lineup because high-priced starter Andrew Bogut is already out, along with Dirk Nowitzki and J.J. Barea.
If Mejri can’t go, Dwight Powell will presumably get the nod at center, with rookie A.J. Hammons as his backup, and the only guy off the bench listed as taller than 6’8 or heavier than 228. This may mean Rick Carlisle goes all small ball all the time, however, that’s hardly the recipe for dealing with Rudy Gobert, who suddenly looks like a legitimate offensive threat these days. It might be necessary to bite the bullet and get a long(er) look at the rookie Hammons, who has played sparingly but has looked fairly solid as a post defender in limited action.
Don’t expect a track meet
The Mavs and Jazz are the bottom two teams in the league in pace, so even with a smaller lineup for Dallas it doesn’t seem likely that we’ll see a lot of up-and-down action in this one. Both teams are going to try to grind it out by forcing their opponent to make shots in the halfcourt. Given the athletic advantage Utah has over Dallas, trying to change that might not be terribly useful.
No George Hill, no problem?
The perimeter trio of George Hill, Rodney Hood and Gordon Hayward have been outstanding this year, and all three are historically brutal for Dallas. Hood and Hayward combined for 49 points last February in a Jazz overtime upset of the Mavs, with Hayward hitting the game-winning shot, if you’ll remember.
George Hill, however, remains out with a toe injury, meaning either Dante Exum or Shelvin Mack will get the start in his place. Exploiting his absence won’t be easy, but if it’s Exum as it has been lately, Dallas will at least not have to deal with Hill’s shooting prowess, as Exum is a non-threat from outside, really.
How to watch
This one will be a later starter than usual, as it’s the second game of an ESPN double-header. Tip-off is at 10:30 Eastern Time, 9:30 Central, right after the surely riveting showdown between the Lakers and 76ers.