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3 things to watch for as the Mavericks take on the Wizards

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After a couple days off and a brutal schedule to date, Dallas looks to compete in the new year.

NBA: Washington Wizards at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Washington has been hot for the past week, with three wins and a scorching first quarter performance against the Rockets on Monday, although they eventually succumbed to an Eric Gordon scoring onslaught. John Wall is coming off the Eastern Conference Player of the Week award, and Bradley Beal returned against Houston from a sprained ankle and went 5-10 from beyond the arc and 50 percent from the field overall en route to 27 points. Dallas is coming off a west coast split, with a win against the Lakers and a loss to the Warriors. Dallas needs to beat .500 Eastern Conference teams if they want to close that 4.5 game gap on the 8-seed and make the playoffs. Let’s take a look at what Dallas must do to get the win at home.

Defend the perimeter

Washington lives and dies with the performances of John Wall and Bradley Beal, their still-young dynamic guards. The two of them combine for a little over 45 points per game, are first and second in assists and steals, and launch more than 10 three-pointers a game between them. Everything the Wizards do is built on the speed of Wall and the shooting of Beal. Watch for actions that let Wall get running downhill while Beal occupies the weak side, where help should come from. Wes Matthews, Dorian Finney-Smith, Devin Harris, and the rest of the Mavericks’ perimeter defenders will have to make some tough decisions as Gortat rolls down the lane, Wall turns the corner, and Beal is just waiting for the chance to catch and shoot.

Win the turnover battle

Washington doesn’t do many things at an elite level, but they do force turnovers and turn them into points better than almost any team in the league. They force the third-highest turnover percentage in the NBA, per basketball-reference, while Dallas forces the highest. The Wizards are middle of the pack in taking care of the ball themselves, while Dallas is in the top-third of the league. If the Mavericks can keep John Wall out of transition, force him into a few mistakes early, and make him think twice about passes, then they may buy their defenders the extra half-step needed to close out effectively.

Win at the free throw line

Dallas is 27th in the association in free throw rate (free throws attempted per field goal attempt), and they allow the 6th highest free throw rate to their opponents. Washington is not elite in controlling or drawing fouls, and key for Dallas will be not allowing the Wizards to feast at the line. This will fall to Dirk Nowitzki’s minutes at the five, Salah Mejri defending without fouling, and Harrison Barnes drawing some contact at the rim to finally get to the line regularly.

How to watch

The game tips off at 7:30 p.m. central time and can be watched on FSSW or NBA League Pass.