7:30 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Mavericks -3.5, Over/Under: 232.5
Expectations often define how we perceive a team, and the two tonight find themselves at opposite ends of the spectrum as the rising Atlanta Hawks travel to North Texas to battle the Dallas Mavericks from American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. After missing the postseason in each of the past three years, the Hawks (11-12, 6th in Eastern Conference) are finally starting to see the fruits of their labor as they find themselves in the middle of a glut of teams in the East, where five different clubs are separated by just 1.5 games in the standings. However, this is a major improvement from a formerly dysfunctional franchise that’s averaged a lowly 24.3 wins over the last three seasons, for (Head Coach) Lloyd Pierce and (General Manager) Travis Schlenk are doing a solid job of building a competitive side. Two years ago, they drafted the sharpshooting Trae Young (26.7 PTS, 42.2% FG, 36.9% 3FG, 4.0 REB, 9.2 AST, 0.7 STL, 23.0 PER) fifth overall in the 2018 NBA Draft, and have slowly filled out the supporting cast around him, with fellow young guns, John Collins (17.8 PTS, 54.9% FG, 41.0% 3FG, 7.8 REB, 1.7 AST, 0.5 STL, 1.0 BLK, 19.2 PER), Kevin Huerter (12.3 PTS, 43.1% FG, 40.8% 3FG, 3.7 REB, 3.6 AST, 1.2 STL, 12.3 PER), and De’Andre Hunter (17.2 PTS, 51.4% FG, 36.6% 3FG, 5.4 REB, 2.2 AST, 0.9 STL, 0.5 BLK, 17.6 PER), looking like foundational pieces, before eventually adding experience in the form of (veteran Center) Clint Capela (13.7 PTS, 55.0% FG, 14.6 REB, 1.1 AST, 0.8 STL, 2.4 BLK, 22.7 PER). Atlanta was rather busy during this past (abridged) offseason, adding further experience to the roster, with (reigning NBA Champion Point Guard) Rajon Rondo (3.4 PTS, 34.5% FG, 30.8% 3FG, 2.3 REB, 3.9 AST, 0.6 STL, 9.0 PER) and (sharpshooting Stretch-Four) Danilo Gallinari (10.3 PTS, 43.8% FG, 39.0% 3FG, 2.5 REB, 1.2 AST, 14.3 PER) joining via Free Agency, along with another young sniper, Bogdan Bogdanovic (9.9 PTS, 38.5% FG, 36.2% 3FG, 3.8 REB, 2.1 AST, 10.0 PER), whom they pounced on once his proposed deal with the Milwaukee Bucks collapsed. Pierce’s charges started the campaign strong winning five of their first six games, though would proceed to drop six of their following seven outings, before going on to take six of their next eight contests. Consistency is oftentimes a difficult thing for young teams to obtain, which is why the franchise so ardently pursued veteran leadership in the offseason. Now, they find themselves losers of three out of four with two prime factors working against them; Atlanta, who leads the NBA in free-throws made (21.2) has been outscored in this regard (Minus-1.7), with their opponents attempting 24.0 singles per game, while the Hawks have been rather sloppy with the basketball as well, committing 15.5 turnovers. It also certainly hasn’t helped that both Hunter and Bogdanovic have been sidelined with respective knee injuries, with the former to be re-evaluated in two weeks while the latter has been participating in on-court activities as his rehab from an avulsion fracture continues. Of course, tonight’s meeting with the Mavericks marks the sixth career encounter between Young and his fellow 2018 Draft classmate, Luka Doncic, who was taken two picks ahead of him though the Hawks originally held that pick, trading back to fifth for the rights to select the 22-year old All-Star and another first rounder that would become Cam Reddish (11.3 PTS, 36.5% FG, 26.6% 3FG, 4.3 REB, 1.3 AST, 1.2 STL, 8.5 PER). Doncic has taken three of the previous five matchups, including the most recent which took place just a week ago, a 122-116 affair at State Farm Arena. Young totaled twenty-one points on 8-of-18 shooting from the field (44.4%), including 3-of-8 from downtown (37.5%), with four rebounds and nine assists in the defeat, with the difference in the game proving to come from the charity stripe (Minus-11) and points in the paint (Minus-10). Collins helped pick up the slack, scoring a game-high thirty-five points on 16-of-21 shooting (76.2%) with a dozen rebounds, while Huerter added another twenty-one points, including 4-of-8 from three (50.0%), five rebounds and ten assists in the losing effort.
“I think it was such a great game for us because the spirit was great. Thirty-one assists is how you get great spirit. Ball movement, empowerment, guys feeling like they’re part of every play. We made simple plays throughout the night.”Lloyd Pierce on the Hawks impressive offensive performance in Saturday’s 132-121 victory over the Toronto Raptors
When we last saw the Hawks, they managed to snap a three-game losing streak with a convincing 132-121 victory over the Toronto Raptors. After falling behind 34-28 at the end of the First Quarter, Atlanta went on the warpath en route to outscoring them 104-87 the rest of the way, leading by as many as fourteen in the process. The win also snapped a ten-game skid against Toronto, as the hosts shot a blistering 56.8% from the field, including 19-of-36 from beyond the arc (52.8%), both of which where season-highs and outscoring them by nineteen points in that last regard. While they still struggled to take care of the basketball (18 turnovers), Peirce’s troops got back to basics from the free-throw line, netting 29-of-33 of their attempts (87.9%). Six different players scored in double-figures, led by Young who responded well after missing Thursday’s affair in Utah with a bruised calf muscle with twenty-eight points on 6-of-15 shooting from the floor (40.0%), including 2-of-4 from downtown (50.0%), though he made his biggest impact from the stripe where he calmly knocked down all fourteen of his free-throws. He also notched a dozen assists, with a number of them going to Capela, who added twenty-three points, sixteen rebounds and four blocks, while Collins and Huerter totaled nineteen points apiece, shooting a combined 8-of-14 from three (57.1%). Defensively, the Hawks did a solid job in slowing the Raptors down, particularly (veteran Guard) Fred VanVleet (25 points), who scored a career-high fifty-four points on a ridiculous 11-of-14 shooting from the perimeter (78.6%) against the Orlando Magic four days ago, relegating him to a more manageable 6-of-18 shooting overall (33.3%). On the whole, the home side put a cap on the Raptors yielding 42.3% shooting from the field, including 13-of-38 from long-range (34.2%), while besting them on the glass (Plus-5) and walling off the rim with a whopping TEN blocks. Now it’s on to Dallas with the road being home for the foreseeable future; nine of Atlanta’s next thirteen games will be on the road, where they are 5-5 thus far outscoring the opposition by a scant 2.6 points and attempting 27.3 free-throws.
Meanwhile, with this season shortened by ten games an early sense of desperation is setting in with the Mavericks (11-14, 13th in Western Conference), who have floundered throughout the first month and some change of the 2020-2021 campaign. A team that was comfortably within the Playoff picture out West a season ago and expected to take the next step in their development has instead been met by a massive roadblock and it’s name is COVID-19. More so than just about any other team in the league (with all apologies to the Wizards), the Mavs been impacted by the virus the greatest, for while they have only seen one of their games actually postponed due to the NBA’s Health/Safety Protocols, they’ve been without up to six different members of the rotation at the same time for long stretches. It’s quite a list, folks, and we’ll take a moment to run down the names for you; (Guards) Jalen Brunson (11.2 PTS, 51.5% FG, 40.0% 3FG, 3.0 REB, 3.5 AST, 16.3 PER) and Josh Richardson (13.1 PTS, 42.3% FG, 29.9% 3FG, 3.1 REB, 2.3 AST, 0.9 STL, 11.1 PER), along with (Forwards) Dorian Finney-Smith (8.6 PTS, 41.7% FG, 33.3% 3FG, 4.8 REB, 1.2 AST, 1.0 STL, 10.1 PER) and Dwight Powell (5.3 PTS, 52.2% FG, 4.0 REB, 1.1 AST, 0.9 STL, 13.3 PER), as well as (Center) Maxi Kleber (7.1 PTS, 43.5% FG, 46.0% 3FG, 5.5 REB, 1.5 AST, 0.9 BLK, 12.3 PER) have missed a grand total of FORTY-ONE games between them simply due to COVID-19. Furthermore, (sharpshooting seven-footer) Kristaps Porzingis (20.0 PTS, 46.0% FG, 33.3% 3FG, 8.6 REB, 1.5 AST, 1.8 BLK, 20.3 PER) missed the first nine games of the season rehabbing from offseason knee surgery, and is just now getting his legs and stroke back to desired levels. As a result, (Head Coach) Rick Carlisle has been forced to shuffle his lineups far more often than he’d like, fielding a ridiculous twelve different starting lineups throughout the first twenty-five games, which is by far and away the most in the Association. However, not all of their issues can be chalked up to COVID-19, for a couple of departures have radically altered their chemistry as well. First and foremost, it should be stated that this team clearly misses the shooting of one, Seth Curry. While not the prolific scorer that his older brother is, the 30-year old is a lifetime 44.6% shooter from beyond the arc, and knocked down what had been a career-high 45.2% of those attempts a year ago for the most efficient offense in NBA history. Last season, Carlisle’s troops averaged 117.0 points per game (3rd Overall) on 46.1% shooting from the field (16th Overall), including 36.7% from downtown (10th Overall), ranking second in the league in three-pointers made (15.1) and attempted (41.3), all the while dishing out 24.7 assists (14th Overall) to a scant 12.7 turnovers (2nd Overall), parlaying to a historic low turnover percentage of 11.2%. Unfortunately, all those figures have plummeted in spectacular fashion as Curry was packaged in a deal to Philadelphia in return for the aforementioned Richardson, resulting in the team’s spacing becoming a shell of itself. Essentially, they replaced a Plus-40% shooter from the perimeter with a Sub-30% shooter, with Curry netting an insane 49.3% this season while Richardson can muster a miserable 29.9%. The Mavericks also miss the presence of former Assistant Coach, Stephen Silas, who was credited with the ascendance of the offense, and is now leading the rebuild in Houston. All this has done is left a greater burden on the shoulders of third-year superstar, Luka Doncic (27.8 PTS, 45.9% FG, 31.0% 3FG, 8.7 REB, 9.3 AST, 1.0 STL, 25.4 PER), who came into the season as the betting favorite for MVP honors. Though it may be a bit early in his career to crown the 21-year old Slovenian international, he’s been nothing short of productive with six triple-doubles thus far.
“We’ve got to do a better job of closing out games. This is an experience we’re going to have to learn from. We’re a young team that simply has to learn from these situations.”Rick Carlisle, voicing his displeasure over the Mavericks nearly blowing a 25-point lead in Monday’s 127-122 victory over the Timberwolves
When we last saw the Mavericks, it certainly seemed like they were operating with a sense of urgency as they return to full strength, winning their third of four outings via a 127-122 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday night. This one was over early as Dallas put their foot on the gas from the opening tip, outscoring the visiting Wolves 43-22 in the First Quarter alone. It was the highest-scoring period of play for the hosts thus far in 2020-2021, as the Mavs shot a scorching 65.2% from the field, including 6-of-12 from beyond the arc (50.0%) with a dozen assists opposed to a single turnover. Porzingis went OFF in the first stanza, totaling fifteen of his team-high twenty-seven points on 5-of-7 shooting from the floor (71.4%), including 3-of-4 from downtown (75.0%), along with five rebounds. In the end, this team resembled it’s predecessor as Carlisle’s charges dished out a healthy thirty assists in comparison to committing fourteen turnovers, while netting 12-of-34 attempts from three (35.3%), which is an encouraging sign for a unit that entered Monday’s affair dead-last in three-point shooting (33.8%). Doncic (26 points) topped twenty-five points for a career-best eleventh consecutive game, though he was just about the only member of the rotation not to enjoy a strong shooting performance; the All-Star Guard made just 9-of-22 attempts overall (40.9%), including a woeful 1-of-7 from the perimeter (14.3%), but made up for it at the free-throw line (7-of-9), while racking up eight rebounds and five assists though did commit half (7) of his teams total of turnovers. Richardson played well with eighteen points , five rebounds, and eight assists, while Tim Hardaway Jr. (17.3 PTS, 43.9% FG, 39.4% 3FG, 3.5 REB, 1.8 AST, 0.8 STL, 14.9 PER) made a huge impact off the bench with twenty-four points on 9-of-15 shooting (60.0%), including 4-of-9 from three (44.4%). With all that said, Dallas nearly saw a twenty-five point lead waste away as Minnesota cut the deficit to 123-120 with just fifty seconds remaining in the contest. However, would knock down a long jumper to extend the lead to five as the hosts would get the requisite stop needed to close out the affair in front of 1,500 fans, marking the first time they’ve enjoyed a home crowd this season.