10:30 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Golden State -9.5
Western powerhouses collide at ORACLE Arena as the Golden State Warriors host the Dallas Mavericks in what could be an early peak at the Playoffs. After a disappointing four-game slide, the Mavericks (33-17, 6th in the Western Conference) have since rallied to win three consecutive contests, although that extending that number to four could prove to be difficult without the services of Rajon Rondo, who was pronounced earlier in the week as out indefinitely nursing a fracture below his left eye. Dallas acquired the versatile Point Guard on December 18th, in a deal consisting of four players, a pair of draft picks, and a trade exemption. It was a huge power play for a team that had designs of contention in the rugged Western Conference, where even fifty wins is no guarantee of postseason qualification. However, the 28-year old hasn’t enjoyed the most seamless of transitions; the Mavs are just 13-8 since his arrival, in which Rondo has averaged just 9.2 points on 40.4% shooting from the field, along with 5.0 rebounds, 6.5 assists, and 1.5 steals, all of which represent a precipitous decline compared to his performance with Boston throughout the first twenty-two games of the campaign. Granted, he’s logged just 29.1 minutes a night, the fewest since his rookie season nine years ago, but the biggest issue has simply been acclimating himself to new teammates and a new system. In Boston, the ball was always in his hands, with the Celtics’ entire offense hinging up in his ingenuity, but in Dallas he has had to get used to playing alongside the likes of Dirk Nowitzki, Chandler Parsons, and Monta Ellis, the last whom he relegated to the Bench. However, with that said, it’s hard to imagine Rick Carlisle’s charges really losing much of a step without his presence, for they were doing pretty well for themselves before his acquisition. Simply put, the Mavericks are one of the most formidable offensive teams in the league with or without Rondo; Dallas leads the league in scoring (106.8) on 47.5% shooting from the field (5th Overall), including 52.1% shooting from within the three-point arc (2nd Overall) and 35.9% from beyond it (11th Overall), all the while dishing out a healthy 23.2 assists (5th Overall), and committing just 12.4 turnovers (3rd Overall).
After blowout victories over the likes of Miami (93-72) and Orlando (108-93), Dallas surprisingly met stiff resistance in the form of the young Timberwolves, who gave them everything they could handle in a hard-f0uoght 100-94 win. The hosts raced out to an early 30-20 lead after the first stanza, but slowly saw the visiting side claw back into the fight thanks to their prowess from the charity stripe. Minnesota knocked down 23-of-26 free-throws (88.5%), outscoring the Mavs by eleven points in that regard, and managed to pull down sixteen offensive rebounds to boot, helping to compensate for poor 41.5% shooting. Carlisle’s outfit, had no such problems offensively, assisting on an impressive twenty-seven of their thirty-nine field goals, shooting a solid 46.4% overall, though only 10-of-31 from beyond the arc (32.2%). Ellis led the way with twenty-three points on 7-of-21 shooting (33.3%), along with a pair of assists and a pair steals, while Nowitzki and Parsons accounted for eighteen and sixteen points respectively. Though they were able to put together a stellar defensive effort against the Timberwolves, it remains to be seen how they will fare against the Warriors, who remain one of the most formidable units in the league. After all, when these teams met earlier this season, Dallas was very nearly ran out of their own building. Back on December 13th, Golden State stormed into American Airlines Center and amassed a 39-18 lead by the end of the first quarter. If not for a furious 30-18 rally over the final twelve minutes, the 105-98 defeat would have looked far worse than it really was for the home side. Despite managing to hold the Warriors to a reasonable 44.6% shooting, including 10-of-32 from downtown (31.3%), the Mavericks just couldn’t throw the ball into the ocean. It was a horrendous offensive performance by a team that rarely lays such an egg, as they could only muster a disappointing 40.4% shooting, including a pitiful 5-of-25 from long-range (20.0%), and fourteen assists. However, seventeen offensive rebounds helped to level the playing the field, particularly in the fourth quarter, where Dallas took full advantage of their size in the paint. Ellis and Nowitzki combined for forty-seven points by the end of the night, but it wouldn’t be enough as Golden State’s dynamic duo of Klay Thompson and Steph Curry torched them for fifty-four points, with Draymond Green dropping another twenty points in victory.
Meanwhile, the Warriors (38-8) continue to sit atop the NBA using largely the same formula that has brought success to their counterpart tonight; through fluid ball movement, they have gone from a formidable offensive unit to arguably the league’s finest. With just over half of the campaign in the books, Golden State has averaged 111.0 points (5th Overall) on a stellar 48.3% shooting from the field (1st Overall), including 52.7% from within the three-point arc (1st Overall) and 38.5% from beyond it (2nd Overall), along with a healthy 27.3 assists a night (2nd Overall). Furthermore, their Effective Field Goal Percentage, which accounts for the added weight of the three-pointer, checks in at 54.2%, which is best in the league. Steve Kerr was charged with the task of taking over a team that underwent considerable development under the incumbent Mark Jackson, but eventually hit the dreaded wall of stagnancy. Simply put, they failed to meet expectations (I.E. success in the Playoffs) despite winning fifty-one games, the most the franchise has seen since the 1991-1992 term, before being bounced out of the postseason by the Los Angeles Clippers in the First Round. Like Jackson, Kerr was a longtime NBA veteran who played fifteen years for a litany of teams, winning five NBA Championships with the likes of the Chicago Bulls (1995-96, 1996-97, 1997-98) and San Antonio Spurs (1998-99 and 2002-03), and also like Jackson had absolutely no coaching experiencing on the professional level upon hiring. With that said, aside from a number of years spent in broadcasting, Kerr did spend three years (2007-10) as the Phoenix Suns’ General Manager. However, learning at the feet of both Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich looks like a pot of gold on a resume’, with Kerr implementing concepts from both legendary coaches’ playbooks to tremendous success thus far. It also helps that both Steph Curry and Klay Thompson have taken their respective games to another level under his guidance, with the latter the front-runner for the league’s Most Improved Player of the Year Award. Thompson is averaging career-highs in scoring (22.5), field goal percentage (48.3%), three-point field goal percentage (44.8%), assists (2.9), and steals (1.2), while also improving vastly on the defensive end of the floor. It’s a boon to the first-time Head Coach that one of the team’s prized assets is unlocking his potential so quickly; back on January 23rd, the sharp-shooting swingman burned the Kings for a career-high fifty-two points on 16-of-25 shooting (64.0%), including an NBA record thirty-seven points in the third quarter alone.
After sustaining back-to-back losses last week, the Warriors rebounded nicely over the past two outings, handling both the Suns (106-87) and Kings (121-96) with stunning ease. Floundering Sacramento couldn’t manage much of a resistance at Sleep Train Arena, as the visitors had their way with their hosts, outscoring them 34-20 in the Second Quarter. Golden State netted a stellar 50.5% of their attempts, including 10-of-23 from beyond the arc (43.5%), all the while dishing out a stunning thirty-three assists. In fact, Kerr’s charges have amassed nineteen games with at least thirty assists, by and away the most in the league at the moment, and the most since the Jazz accumulated twenty in the 2009-10 campaign. As you can imagine, so many helpers has served as quite the barometer of success, with the Warriors going 18-1 in games where they have passed the thirty-assist threshold. With the game well in their control by Halftime, Golden State went to their Bench earlier than usual, with six different reserves contributing to the final score, three of which ended up in double-figures. Kerr saw his Bench score a combined sixty-one points, with Andre Iguodala and Marreese Speights accounting for seventeen points apiece, while Leandro Barbosa added a other dozen in the winning effort. As for the starters, Thompson didn’t torch Sacramento like he did two weeks ago, scoring fourteen points in just twenty-three minutes of action, but Curry had no such reservations, leading the team with twenty-three points on 6-of-15 shooting (40.0%), with five rebounds, nine assists, and three steals. Defensively, they relegated the Kings to 44.3% shooting from the field, including 7-of-16 from downtown (43.8%), forcing eighteen turnovers. However, the biggest difference defensively was on the glass, where Golden State bludgeoned their opponent to the tune of 49-34 in that regard. In fact, the visiting side secured fourteen offensive rebounds to the home side’s six, whicih is playing with fire against a group that doesn’t need second-chance opportunities to beat you.