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3 things to watch as the Mavericks host the Sacramento Kings

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The Mavs look to avenge last week’s blow-out loss to DeMarcus Cousins and the Kings.

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

This afternoon’s game is the second of three matches between the Dallas Mavericks and the Sacramento Kings this season. The first didn’t end well for the Mavs, with Rudy Gay and Darren Collison both scoring 19 and DeMarcus Cousins earning a double-double (plus seven assists and three blocks) to give the Kings a 120-89 win, despite Deron Williams’ 20-point effort.

After one of their worst losses this season, the team called a post-game meeting. And something seems to have clicked over the last 10 days, with the Mavs notching two wins since then. Yes, they’ve also suffered three losses, but 2-3 is a big improvement on the season so far.

So what to watch for as Dallas looks for another win?

Boogie Cousins

DeMarcus Cousins presents a nightmare of a match-up for the Mavericks, especially on a night when they’ll be missing a lot of size with both Dirk Nowitzki and Andrew Bogut still out with injuries. Salah Mejri is expected to play after a minor injury earlier in the week, but Mejri and Dwight Powell, who drew the bulk of the Cousins assignment during the last game against the Kings, are simply not the sort of formidable front-court duo who can stop Cousins.

Perimeter defense

That said, despite last week’s blow-out, the Kings are not a good team. They’re currently ninth in the West and only four games ahead of the Mavericks in the standings. If the Mavs can limit their damage to what Cousins can do against Mejri and Powell in the paint, they stand a chance at winning this one.

Last game, the Mavericks’ defensive strategy involved sending help whenever Cousins had the ball, and Boogie made them pay by dishing the ball to open shooters on the perimeter. The Kings don’t usually take a lot of three-pointers (24 per game on average) or shoot them particularly well (they make just over 34 percent), but on that night they made over 45 percent of the 22 they took.

But Dallas’ team defense has been slowly improving, with bench players like Dorian Finney-Smith really starting to step up. A win today will require doing a better job limiting the Kings’ options outside of Cousins.

Turnovers

The Mavericks also have to hold on to the ball. The 31 point loss wasn’t even the most eye-poppingly bad stat from last week’s game. That honor belongs to the season-high 23 turnovers the Mavs racked up, off of which Sacramento scored 24 points. The Mavericks are normally one of the best teams in the league at limiting turnovers with just over 12 per game on average.

The Kings are one of the better teams in the league at forcing turnovers, but if Dallas can restrict their turnovers to anywhere close to their typical level, that should go a long way toward making this afternoon’s game more competitive.

How to watch

Today’s game is an early one, tipping off at 3:00pm Central on NBA TV.