7:00 PM EST, TNT – Line: 76ers -4.5 , Over/Under: 229
Two of the National Basketball Association’s brightest young talents lead their respective sides in a clash within the City of Brotherly Love, as the improving Dallas Mavericks battle the East-leading Philadelphia 76ers from Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Initially pegged to take the next step and become one of the true contenders out West, it appears that the Mavericks (15-15, 9th in Western Conference) are finally starting to become the team that we all thought they would be all along now that they’ve put their health concerns behind them. Of course, COVID-19 has influenced EVERY team in the NBA this season, though some have been plagued more so than others and Dallas has absolutely found themselves within that dubious category. (Head Coach) Rick Carlisle has used a league-high fourteen different Starting Lineups thus far in the thirty games that his charges have participated in with as many as six members of the rotation missing action as subject to the NBA’s strengthened Health/Safety Protocols. As a result, January was an arduous month for the Mavs who lost eight out of ten games at one point, falling to a disappointing 8-12 on the season which out West is likely to have you circling the drain. However, they would eventually get healthy, which included the welcome return of (towering sniper) Kristaps Porzingis (20.5 PTS, 47.3% FG, 35.2% 3FG, 8.2 REB, 1.3 AST, 1.6 BLK, 21.3 PER), who while managing to avoid the virus had missed the first nine games of the campaign following offseason knee surgery and has quite frankly been slow to return to full fitness; the Latvian international has missed each of the last two contests due to tightness in his back, which may or may not have been fueled by the rumors that the organization is gaging trade interest in the 25-year old. With that said, he had picked things up this month before this latest injury spell, averaging 22.8 points on 50.0% shooting from the field, including 42.3% from three, with 8.5 rebounds and 1.6 blocks over an eight-game stretch. As a team, the Mavericks have picked it up as well, winning seven of their last nine outings, in which they’ve returned to .500 for the first time since January 17th, thanks in large part to an attack that while still a ways off from the historically-efficient levels that they operated at last season, are certainly getting the job done; Dallas has averaged 121.1 points over that period on 48.2% shooting from the floor, including 40.2% from downtown, with 24.4 assists opposed to 11.1 turnovers, while knocking down 20.1 of their 23.9 free-throws. As you can imagine, (All-Star Guard) Luka Doncic (28.9 PTS, 47.4% FG, 34.9% 3FG, 8.6 REB, 9.2 AST, 1.0 STL, 0.7 BLK, 26.6 PER) has been the driving force behind this successful stretch, with the 21-year old relishing the help that he’s received from a fully healthy supporting cast. The Slovenian international entered the 2020-2021 campaign as the betting favorite for the NBA’s Most Valuable Player and though he isn’t the favorite to take home that award at the moment, that’s not to say that he isn’t playing at a very high level; over the last nine games Doncic has averaged 32.4 points on an efficient 49.5% shooting overall and 45.8% from beyond the arc, along with 7.8 rebounds and 7.9 assists, while also getting it done from the charity stripe where he’s knocked down 7.4-of-9.6 free-throws. Unfortunately, there is still plenty of work that needs to be done on the defensive end of the hardwood where Dallas simply hasn’t been good enough to get to where we all expected them to go. On the season they’ve allowed 113.6 points per game (23rd Overall) on 46.9% shooting (18th Overall), with a noticeable lack of protection around the rim serving as their biggest weakness. Opponents have shot 54.1% against them within the arc (25th Overall) and can’t keep them off the line, yielding 23.9 free-throw attempts a night (25th Overall), while ranking next-to-last in rebounding (42.4) and twenty-third in bocks (4.3). This is probably the reason that you’re hearing Porzingis’ name come up in trade rumors, for the seven-footer doesn’t always make the best use of his size around the rim, particularly on defense. Even during this recent string of games it’s absolutely been the offense that has carried them while the defense has struggled to carry it’s own weight, allowing 120.4 points on 49.4% shooting and 39.8% from deep, with 25.7 assists in comparison to 12.0 turnovers. It’s very much been the offense or bust this season in Northern Texas, with the exploits of Doncic leading them, which was precisely the case in their latest outing when they welcomed the struggling Celtics to American Airlines Center…
“He’s just a very unique player, a very unique person. The wiring of people like Luka Doncic, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Larry Bird, Kobe Bryant, guys that have this laser-like focus in these situations. It’s difficult to explain how their minds and their brains work.”Rick Carlisle on the exploits of Luka Doncic, whose step-back three-pointer lead the Mavericks to a 110-107 win over the Celtics on Tuesday night
When we last saw the Mavericks, they once again relied on their MVP to lead them as the young superstar hit a pair of clutch daggers down the stretch of a thrilling 110-107 victory over the Boston Celtics, winning their sixth game in seven outings. In all honesty, this one shouldn’t have been this close as the hosts led by as many as eleven points with under three minutes to play; Boston’s Kemba Walker hit back-to-back three-pointers before Doncic drilled a long step-back dagger over Daniel Theis to take a two-point advantage, only for Jaylen Brown to square things away with a short jumper 9.5 seconds left to play. Doncic would then receive the inbound and eventually call GAME on another long dagger to end the affair altogether, slamming his hands on the scorer’s table in elation. In the end, the two-time All-Star finished with a game-high thirty-one points on 11-of-23 shooting (47.8%), including 6-of-8 from beyond the arc (75.0%), ten rebounds and eight assists. As a team, Dallas shot 47.2% from the field, including 13-of-33 from downtown, with nineteen assists in comparison to committing just ten turnovers. Though both teams took pretty good care of the basketball, Carlisle’s charges made the most in exploiting those of their opponent, turning thirteen Celtics turnovers into eighteen points, while the visiting side could only manage to parlay the Mavs’ ten into just nine points. With Porzingis out of action, the bench was HUGE in this one, outscoring Boston’s reserves 51-19; (Point Guard) Jalen Brunson (12.3 PTS, 52.3% FG, 41.3% 3FG, 3.3 REB, 3.5 AST, 17.1 PER) outscored them all by himself, accounting for sixteen of his twenty-two points in the Fourth Quarter, drilling 3-of-5 from three (60.0%) in the final period, while (veteran Guard) Tim Hardaway Jr. (17.0 PTS, 44.2% FG, 39.1% 3FG, 3.2 REB, 1.6 AST, 0.6 STL, 14.7 PER) added fourteen points and three assists, with (towering Center) Boban Marjanovic (4.7 PTS, 54.1% FG, 3.6 REB, 22.7 PER) chipping in with ten points and eight rebounds. (Young Guard) Josh Richardson (12.9 PTS, 43.2% FG, 31.2% 3FG, 3.1 REB, 2.6 AST, 0.9 STL, 11.1 PER), who had been slow to acclimate to the franchise after arriving from Philadelphia in the offseason, played well in totaling sixteen points on an efficient 7-of-12 shooting (57.1%) and four rebounds. It was quite a way to end an affair in which the home side enjoyed the largest crowd since they allowed fans to return on February 8th, with over 3,000 bystanders in attendance, many of which were vaccinated essential workers. Now, the Mavericks will hit the road for a three-game eastern road trip before returning home before the All-Star Break (March 5th-10th), as they look to win their fourth in a row against the 76ers, whom they bested in each of their two meetings during the regular season last year. When they met in Philadelphia on December 20th, 2019, the Mavs received a combined forty-nine points from the aforementioned Porzingis and Hardaway in an easy 117-98 win as Doncic sat with an injury, while in the second leg in Dallas on January 11th, 2020, the hosts pulled away in the Second Half of a 109-91 victory in which all five starters finished in double-figures scoring.
Meanwhile, after a season-high three consecutive losses on an ill-fated western road-trip the 76ers (21-11, 1st in Eastern Conference) have apparently gotten their act back together in winning three of their last four outings as they continue to cling to first place in the East. In many respects, this was the team that many predicted we would see last season, but due to a variety of reasons that particular incarnation would never reach the lofty expectations placed upon them. First and foremost, that was a VERY flawed group, which included an ill-fitting rotation featuring many players who simply didn’t complement one another, a Coaching Staff that had reached it’s ceiling and proved unable to make sense of the pieces at their disposal, and a Front Office that deserved a great deal of blame for assembling it altogether in the first place. And it’s with that said that Philadelphia meandered through a wildly inconsistent campaign en route to a 43-30 finish and a First Round sweep at the hands of the Celtics. Needless to say, change was necessary and change came… to all three levels of the club. (Former Rockets General Manager) Daryl Morey and (former Los Angeles Clippers Head Coach) Doc Rivers arrived in short order, with the former taking over as President of Basketball Operations and the latter replacing Brett Brown. Morey, the 218 Executive of the Year, quickly got to work in rebuilding the roster, finding a way to ship out (All-Star Forward) Al Horford in a cap-cutting deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder for (veteran Swingman) Danny Green (8.9 PTS, 40.1% FG, 38.2% 3FG, 3.6 REB, 1.8 AST, 1.2 STL, 0.7 BLK, 10.0 PER), while also exchanging the aforementioned Richardson in favor of (sharpshooting Guard) Seth Curry (12.9 PTS, 47.6% FG, 45.4% 3FG, 2.0 REB, 2.7 AST, 0.8 STL, 12.8 PER). These moves alone opened up the congested offense and created precious spacing for the likes of both (All-Stars) Joel Embiid (29.8 PTS, 52.7% FG, 40.5% 3FG, 11.3 REB, 3.1 AST, 1.3 STL, 1.3 BLK, 30.7 PER) and Ben Simmons (15.7 PTS, 56.7% FG, 16.7% 3FG, 8.3 REB, 7.9 AST, 1.6 STL, 0.8 BLK, 20.3 PER) to operate. And speaking of Embiid, the 26-year old has absolutely flourished under these circumstances and in many respects has been the Association’s MVP of the first half of the campaign. Credit Rivers for getting the most out of the Cameroon international, coaxing the seven-footer to get into the best shape of his life which in turn as translated into career-highs in a slew of categories, including points (29.8), field goal percentage (52.7%), three-point percentage (40.5%), two-point percentage (55.0%), and steals (1.3). One of the most well-respected figures in the NBA, Rivers brings a sense of credibility and legitimacy to this franchise that the previous regime quite frankly could never possess; we’re all acquainted with the phrase, the process, when it comes to the Sixers, and with Rivers in command they are better equipped to go from Point B to Point C than they were under Brown, who does deserve credit for guiding them from A to B. As for the rest of the squad, Rivers has motivated (veteran Forward) Tobias Harris (20.7 PTS, 51.7% FG, 41.5% 3FG, 7.7 REB, 3.4 AST, 0.8 STL, 0.9 BLK, 19.7 PER) into a dynamic two-way presence, with the 28-year old also posting career-highs in many categories, including points (20.7), field goal percentage (51.7%), three-point percentage (41.5%), two-point percentage (55.6%), assists (3.4), and blocks (0.9). And then there is Simmons, who has proven to be a bit of a conundrum throughout his young career in the league. One of the most unique talents in the game, the former No. One Overall Pick has yet to develop into the scoring threat that many predicted when he entered the NBA five years ago, particularly in terms of shooting, but he has been a freight train in transition and an absolute animal on the defensive of the hardwood. With the improvement of both Embiid and Harris coupled with the shooting and spacing offered by Curry, he has looked far more comfortable simply sitting back and orchestrating the attack, and there is nothing wrong with that.
”I’m the type of guy who can do a lot of things on the floor, and I’m glad the coaches can see that and appreciate that. Defensive Player of the Year, that’s what I want to win this year, and I should be in it.”Joel Embiid on his performance in the 76ers 109-102 victory at the Raptors on Tuesday night, in which he overcame poor shooting (3-of-13) and 6 turnovers with great defensive play
When we last saw the 76ers, they won their third game in four contests by avenging their only loss during that stretch, besting the Toronto Raptors in a 109-102 affair in Tampa, Florida, which for this season has served as their temporary home due Canada’s travel restrictions over COVID-19. When these teams met on Sunday (110-103), Toronto pulled away late on the strength of a 27-19 Fourth Quarter in which the visitors simply couldn’t throw the ball into the ocean; Philadelphia shot a miserable 5-of-21 in the period (23.8%), including 1-of-11 from beyond the arc (9.1%), with Embiid in particular struggling to find much of a rhythm on 1-of-7 shooting (14.3%). Two days later and it was once again a rather close game, with the home side again asserting control over the final stanza of play, but unlike it’s predecessor the Sixers would hold on for the win in large part to a dominant start; Rivers’ troops got off to a STRONG start, knocking down 12-of-24 attempts from the floor in the First Quarter (50.0%), including 7-of-12 from downtown (58.3%), outscoring the Raptors by fifteen points in that regard en route to a 37-18 period. Surprisingly, it would be (Turkish Swingman) Furkan Korkmaz (7.5 PTS, 37.7% FG, 32.6% 3FG, 2.5 REB, 0.8 AST, 0.7 STL, 8.4 PER) who made the biggest impact in scoring sixteen of nineteen points in the first frame, drilling 4-of-6 from three (66.7%). In the end, Harris would lead the team with twenty-three points on 8-of-12 shooting (66.7%), including 3-of-4 from deep (75.0%), with seven rebounds and five assists, while Simmons flirted with a Triple-Double totaling fifteen points, nine rebounds, and seven assists. For his troubles, Embiid, who has come back down to Earth a bit since posting a career-high fifity points last weekend, finished with eighteen points but could only manage 3-of-13 shooting overall (23.1%), but made up for it at the free-throw line where he calmly knocked down all but one of his dozen free-throws (91.7%). It wasn’t the most cohesive effort for the two-time All-NBA selection, who despite pulling down twelve rebounds also committed six of his side’s nineteen turnovers. And speaking of turnovers, this is how Toronto managed to get back into the game, as they turned Philly’s frequent mishandling of the rock into twenty-three points, many of which came in transition where they held a 22-13 advantage. However, it would be that early lead and their shooting from the perimeter that would prove to be difference for the 76ers, who drilled 17-of-38 threes (44.7%), there most since January 14th, outscoring the Raptors by eighteen points in that respect. The most impressive thing about this shooting performance was the fact that they managed to do so without the aforementioned Curry, who missed the affair with a sprained ankle that has left him Day-to-Day. The 30-year old has missed eight games thus far since arriving via trade in the (truncated) offseason, but has been essential to their success with his shooting opening up chasms of space for his teammates to operate. A career 44.4% three-point shooter, Curry is unsurprisingly one of the most efficient marksman in the history, and the trickle-down effect has been very real, for there is a reason that so many of his teammates have been enjoying career campaigns from the field and beyond. It’s simple, folks: they have space to operate, no longer working within the confines of what equates to a phone booth.