10:00 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Jazz -3.5, Over/Under: 222
A pair of teams traveling in very different directions meet for the second time in three days, as the Dallas Mavericks look to return to full strength and strike back against the surging Utah Jazz from Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. Predicted by many to make the proverbial leap out West, it has been far from smooth sailing for the Mavericks (8-10, 12th in Western Conference) thus far, thanks in large part to COVID-19, which has rocked their rotation to it’s foundations, leaving them without a full complement of players for the better part of the last month. Needless to say, it’s absolutely reflected in their record of late; Dallas has since dropped six of their last eight outings, including each of their last three, a period in which they’ve been outscored by an average margin of 8.2 points per game. Over that stretch it has been their play on the defensive end that has been particularly poor, yielding a disappointing 117.5 points per contest on 48.3% shooting from the field, including 39.3% from beyond the arc, while getting obliterated on the glass by a margin of 6.9 rebounds. Then again, that’s what is going to happen when you find yourself missing the likes of (Guards) Jalen Brunson (11.7 PTS, 51.8% FG, 41.7% 3FG, 2.7 REB, 3.6 AST, 16.4 PER) and Josh Richardson (12.9 PPTS, 41.2% FG, 31.4% 3FG, 2.8 REB, 1.4 AST, 0.9 STL, 9.8 PER) along with (Forwards) Dorian Finney-Smith (8.6 PTS, 38.4% FG, 30.6% 3FG, 4.9 REB, 1.1 AST, 1.2 STL, 10.6 PER), Dwight Powell (4.5 PTS, 45.2% FG, 20.0% 3FG, 3.5 REB, 1.2 AST, 1.1 STL, 11.3 PER), and Maxi Kleber (7.4 PTS, 43.9% FG, 47.1% 3FG, 5.3 REB, 1.3 AST, 0.9 BLK, 13.5 PER) for multiple games, leaving (Head Coach) Rick Carlisle oftentimes grasping at straws to get stops. Thankfully, all of those players have returned to the fray with a clean bill of health with the exception of Kleber, with the German international still stuck within the Association’s COVID/Safety Protocols and expected to miss tonight’s rematch with the Jazz. But enough of the bad news, for there is plenty of optimism for the Mavs who during all of these issues with the virus welcomed back (Center) Kristaps Porzingis (19.5 PTS, 46.6% FG, 29.4% 3FG, 7.9 REB, 1.0 AST, 1.8 BLK, 19.1 PER) to the fold. The towering Latvian international missed the entire Offseason and Preseason (as brief as it was) along with the first nine games of the season following knee surgery, and has been working his way back into game shape ever since; his scoring is just off of last season’s figure (20.4), though he has yet to regain his touch from downtown, knocking down a career-low 29.4% of his attempts, which is well below his career number of 35.5%. However, the sense is that it’s only a matter of time before the 25-year old rekindles his chemistry with the rest of the rotation, particularly (Point Guard) Luka Doncic (27.4 PTS, 46.4% FG, 28.5% 3FG, 9.4 REB, 9.7 AST, 1.1 STL, 27.0 PER), who has carried the Mavericks through these early season trials and tribulations. The betting favorite for MVP coming into the campaign, the 21-year old has done nothing to dispel that confidence, nearly averaging a triple-double thus far with 27.4 points, 9.4 assists, and a career-high 9.7 assists. The Slovenian international has logged six triple-doubles already, four of which have come during this recent stretch of mediocrity for the team, averaging 27.4 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 11.3 assists over the last eight games. With that said, like many of his teammates, his shooting from long-range is down, and while this is something that isn’t exclusive to just Dallas, it does bear watching; the Mavs ranked second overall in three-pointers made (15.1) and attempted (41.3) last season, draining 36.7% (10th Overall) in the process, but this season are twentieth in makes (12.1) despite ranking eleventh in attempts (36.5), parlaying to a league-worst 33.2% shooting from the perimeter.
“We’re just not ourselves right now. We’re gonna have to pick it up and be way better than this.”Luka Doncic on the Mavericks poor performance in Wednesday’s 116-104 loss at the Jazz
When we last saw the Mavericks, they fell to their third consecutive defeat as the Jazz disposed of them in a 116-104 affair in Salt Lake City. This one was over early on, as Dallas fell behind 32-19 in the First Quarter en route to trailing by twenty-one points at Halftime. Even with the long-awaited return of the aforementioned Finney-Smith, Richardson, and Powell following a nine-game absence, there wasn’t much that Carlisle’s charges could do to Utah, who shot a blistering 53.7% overall through the first three periods of play in which they outscored the visitors 100-78. In the end, the Mavs shot 46.2% from the field, including 12-of-35 from beyond the arc (34.3%), though attempted only nine free-throws (making eight). However, they just got physically manhandled by the Jazz, plain and simple; Utah held commanding margins in three-point shooting (Plus-12), free-throws (Plus-8), rebounding (Plus-14), particularly of the offensive variety (Plus-7). Doncic led the way with thirty points on 13-of-24 shooting (54.2%), including 2-of-7 from downtown (28.6%), along with four rebounds, six assists, and a steal, while Porzingis added another eighteen points on 8-of-18 shooting (44.4%), including 2-of-7 from three (28.6%), five rebounds, and a pair of blocks. (Guard) Tim Hardaway Jr. (17.6 PTS, 44.3% FG, 39.7% 3FG, 3.9 REB, 1.8 AST, 15.1 PER) chipped in with nineteen points on 6-of-10 shooting (60.0%), including 4-of-6 from the perimeter (66.7%), and is now four triples away from totaling 1,000 for his career. (Journeyman Forward) James Johnson (7.2 PTS, 48.1% FG, 29.2% 3FG, 3.4 REB, 1.9 AST, 1.1 STL, 0.9 BLK, 13.3 PER) filled up the stat sheet with eight points, seven rebounds, three assists, and a career-best four blocks in 22:15 off the bench. In three meetings last season, the Mavericks were 1-2 against the Jazz though the games were ridiculously close with the score separated by an average margin of 0.3 points per game. Doncic only participated in one of those meetings, in which he totaled twenty-five points on 11-of-25 shooting (44.0%), six rebounds, and seven assists in a 112-107 loss in Salt Lake City on January 25th. Dallas has lost six of the last eight encounters between these teams.
Meanwhile, don’t look now but sitting atop the Western Conference with the best record in the National Basketball Association is none other than…. (drumroll please) the Jazz (14-4, 1st in Western Conference)? That’s right, folks, no team in the league has better hotter than Utah, who have been on an absolute tear of late, winning twelve of their last fourteen outings including each of their last ten. (Head Coach) Quin Snyder’s charges have been in the zone, looking like the team that we all thought that they could have been a year ago. Simply put, the Bubble was a mess for this team, who would go 3-5 in the seeding games before blowing a 3-1 lead in the First Round against the Denver Nuggets. During this winning streak, they’ve hammered the opposition by an average margin of 15.3 points per game, thanks in large part to a scintillating attack that is scoring 116.7 points on 47.6% shooting from the field, including a white-hot 41.9% from deep. So what has changed for the Jazz in the span of just a few months, you ask? Well, it certainly helps that the players that they added last season are healthy and playing to their potential. Sharpshooting Forward, Bojan Bogdanovic (12.9 PTS, 36.7% FG, 36.5% 3FG, 3.7 REB, 2.0 AST, 9.2 PER) was a major signing in Free Agency and was expected to open up the Offense, but missed out on the Restart and the Playoffs after tearing a ligament in his right wrist. However, the Croatian international has participated in all eighteen of his club’s outings thus far, though still seems to be working his way back from a shooting perspective; a career 39.2% shooter from downtown, including over 40.0% in each of the previous three years, Bogdanovic is netting only 36.5% of his attempts thus far. And then there is (veteran Point Guard) Mike Conley Jr. (16.6 PTS, 45.6% FG, 41.9% 3FG, 3.8 REB, 5.9 AST, 1.5 STL, 20.2 PER), who after slowly acclimating himself to his new surroundings in 2019-2020, looks as if he’s spent a lifetime in Salt Lake City; the 33-year old is shooting a much-improved 45.6% from the field, including a career-high 41.9% from three, along with 3.8 rebounds (also a career-best) and 5.9 assists. And speaking of three-point shooting, these two players have played a major role in Utah evolving into the most prolific team in the league in this regard, knocking down more threes than any other side (16.6) on a stellar 39.7% (2nd Overall). Simply put, this rapid improvement has turned the Offense into a top-10 unit, while opening things up for (All-Star Guard) Donovan Mitchell (23.4 PTS, 43.1% FG 39.5% 3FG, 4.4 REB, 4.9 AST, 0.7 STL, 18.5 PER) to create for himself and others; the 24-year old has formed an excellent chemistry with Conley with the two Guards distributing the basketball without missing a step in playing off it, with Mitchell dishing out a career-high 4.9 assists while also netting 39.5% from downtown. Furthermore, during this recent stretch of success, he’s averaging 25.2 points on 48.2% shooting from the floor, including a ridiculous 46.6% from three, along with 5.0 rebounds and 4.8 assists over the last ten outings. The fourth-year stud missed Wednesday’s meeting with the Mavericks after suffering a concussion in Utah’s 108-94 victory over the New York Knicks, and is currently listed as Questionable for tonight’s second leg with Dallas. If that previous meeting with the Mavs was of any indication then Snyder may very well be able to rest Mitchell for another game…
“It’s probably the first time since I’ve been here that I’ve seen that much focus from everyone in this locker room. I really feel like we’re playing for something bigger and we’re on a mission.”Rudy Gobert following Utah’s 116-104 victory propelling them to First Place in the West
When we last saw the Jazz, they had no problems in handling their business without their leading scorer as they downed the Mavericks in a 116-104 victory, their tenth in a row. With Dallas finally receiving reinforcements after a prolonged fight with COVID-19, Utah was all-too happy to welcome them to Salt Lake City where they pounced on them form the opening tip, never trailing in the affair and never leading by fewer than a dozen points. With the aforementioned Mitchell sidelined with a concussion, this particular contest was all about (Center) Rudy Gobert (13.4 PTS, 60.2% FG, 14.2 REB, 1.4 AST, 2.8 AST, 23.1 PER), for the towering Frenchman turned in arguably the most dominating performance of his career with twenty-nine points and twenty rebounds to go along with three steals and blocks apiece. Utah manhandled the Mavs on the glass, outrebounding them 50-36, including 11-4 offensively, with Gobert surpassing their total as a team in that regard (6). It was the first time in quite a while that the 28-year old has served as the focal point of the attack, with his scoring output standing as his highest since March 2017, in which he dropped thirty-five points against the hapless Knicks. Needless to say, this is precisely was the franchise expect from a player whom they broke the bank for signing the seven-footer to a mammoth five-year/%205 million contract extension in the Fall. With that said, he wasn’t even the high scorer for his team, for that distinction goes to (super sub) Jordan Clarkson (17.9 PTS, 47.8% FG, 39.0% 3FG, 4.6 REB, 1.9 AST, 1.1 STL, 21.7 PER) who absolutely exploded off the bench with a season-best thirty-one points on 11-of-21 shooting (52.4%), including 4-of-11 from beyond the arc (36.4%), and seven rebounds. (Veteran Forward) Joe Ingles (10.9 PTS, 51.4% FG, 44.7% 3FG, 3.4 REB, 4.0 AST, 16.4 PER) added twenty-one points in the victory, nearly tying the franchise mark for three-pointers made in a single game, knocking down 7-of-11 attempts against the Mavericks. The Australian also registered eight assists, all but one of which going to Gobert, whom he was in synch with throughout the affair. The aforementioned Conley scored seventeen points with six assists and a pair of steals as well, as Utah ascended to first place in the western Conference following the Los Angeles Lakers defeat at the Philadelphia 76ers.