8:30 PM EST, ABC – Line: Nets -3.5, Over/Under: 236
Get ready for points, points, and more points as three of the National Basketball Association’s most prolific scorers clash in Saturday showcase, as the Dallas Mavericks continue their uphill climb against the surging Brooklyn Nets from Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. Initially pegged to take the next step and become one of the true contenders out West, it appears that the Mavericks (15-16, 9th in Western Conference) are finally showing signs of becoming 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-one 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 three contests due to tightness in his back, which has done nothing but provide more fuel to the rumors that the organization is seriously exploring trade interest in the 25-year old. 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. Overall, the Mavericks have picked it up as well en route to winning seven of their last ten outings, in which they (briefly) 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 118.7 points over that period on 47.6% shooting from the floor, including 40.0% from downtown, with 23.7 assists opposed to 11.8 turnovers, while knocking down 20.1 of their 23.8 free-throws. As you can imagine, (All-Star Guard) Luka Doncic (28.5 PTS, 47.4% FG, 35.3% 3FG, 8.4 REB, 9.0 AST, 1.0 STL, 0.7 BLK, 26.1 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 ten games Doncic has averaged 3.1 points on an efficient 49.3% shooting overall and 46.2% from beyond the arc, along with 7.8 rebounds and 8.4 assists, while also getting it done from the charity stripe where he’s knocked down 7.1-of-9.2 free-throws (77.2%). 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 113.5 points per game (23rd Overall) on 46.8% shooting (16th Overall), with a noticeable lack of protection around the rim serving as their biggest weakness. Opponents have shot 53.7% against them within the arc (21st Overall) and can’t keep them off the line, yielding 23.9 free-throw attempts a night (24th Overall), while ranking next-to-last in rebounding (42.6) and twenty-first in blocks (4.5). This is one the reasons 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 119.5 points on 48.8% shooting and 39.9% from deep, with 25.7 assists in comparison to 11.5 turnovers. But when happens when their firepower fails them? Look no further than Thursday night’s affair in the City of Brotherly love…
“At certain times, they both had their way. We just weren’t consistent enough. There were times we contained Simmons well and other times we let him go right by us. We did some good things against Embiid early. We had him a little bit off balance and then he got into more of a groove in the second quarter.”Rick Carlisle on the Mavericks’ struggles defensively in containing both Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons in Thursday night’s 111-97 defeat in Philadelphia
When we last saw the Mavericks, they began their three-game eastern road trip with an absolute dud as they were dominated by the East-leading Philadelphia 76ers in a 111-97 affair from Wells Fargo Center. For the first time in seventeen games, the Mavs were relegated below 100 points thanks in large part to an uncharacteristic inefficiency on the offensive end; the visitors shot just 41.0% from the field, including 13-of-34 from beyond the arc (38.4%), while committing a season-high TWENTY-TWO turnovers eclipsing their total of assists (17) for the first time all season. An that would prove to be the biggest difference between the two sides on Thursday night, for while the hosts parlayed those litany of mistakes into twenty-two points, Dallas could muster just eight turnovers with ten points off them. And it’s with that said that it was no surprise that Philadelphia were thoroughly bested in transition, 24-7. Relatively close early on, everything shifted towards the Sixers in the Second Quarter, where the home side dominated the contest to the tune of 36-21; nine of the Mavericks’ turnovers came in this period alone, which afforded the home side nine more field goal attempts, which they took full advantage of. (MVP frontrunner) Joel Embiid totaled thirteen of his twenty-three points in the stanza, while the visiting side could muster just 41.2% shooting. In a game billed as a battle of MVP candidates, Doncic did not live up to his reputation as he was at times completely negated by Philly’s swarming defense, particularly that of (All-Star Guard) Ben Simmons; Luka was held to just nineteen points on 6-of-13 shooting (46.2%), including 3-of-6 from downtown (50.0%), but accounted for seven of his team’s turnovers while dishing out a season-low four assists. With the aforementioned Porzingis out of action due to injury, Carlisle’s troops were ill-equipped to defend the paint, where they were manhandled 50-26. (Foreign Big Men) Maxi Kleber (6.7 PTS, 42.4% FG, 44.9% 3FG, 5.3 REB, 1.4 AST, 0.8 BLK, 11.0 PER), who just returned from injury), and Boban Marjanovic (4.8 PTS, 50.0% FG, 4.1 REB, 21. PER) tried their best to keep Embiid in check, and though the seven-footer only shot 5-of-20 from the floor (25.0%) he made a living at the charity stripe where he knocked down all twelve of his free-throws. Thursday’s meeting also the return of a familiar face in the form of (sharpshooting Guard) Seth Curry, who in his first game against his former team totaled fifteen points. The sniper played a rather large role in Dallas’ uber-efficient attack last season, and has since brought his shooting and spacing to the Sixers who have flourished thus far. (Young Guard) Josh Richardson (12.9 PTS, 43.3% FG, 30.1% 3FG, 3.3 REB, 2.5 AST, 0.8 STL, 11.0 PER), who arrived in exchange for the deal that sent Curry to Philadelphia, ended the night with thirteen points and six rebounds, while (Guards) Tim Hardaway Jr. (16.8 PTS, 44.6% FG, 39.3% 3FG, 3.1 REB, 1.6 AST, 0.6 STL, 15.0 PER) and Jalen Brunson (12.3 PTS, 52.4% FG, 42.2% 3FG, 3.3 REB, 3.4 AST, 17.0 PER) accounted for twenty-three points on 8-of-13 shooting (61.5%), including 4-of-7 from three (57.1%), with the latter returning to Philadelphia where he won a National Championship at Villanova.
Meanwhile, the talk of the NBA over the past six weeks has been none other than the Nets (22-12, 2nd in Eastern Conference), who have cemented themselves as a bonafide contender in not just the East, but the Association as a whole. As we’ve stated over and over again in this column, if the past decade has taught us anything about this league, it’s that the most successful way of building a championship team is by amassing multiple stars, with Brooklyn proving to be the latest advocate of that method. A year after signing not one, but two, All-NBA talents in the form of (2013-2014 MVP) Kevin Durant (29.0 PTS, 54.0% FG, 43.4% 3FG, 7.3 REB, 5.3 AST, 0.7 STL, 1.4 BLK, 25.1 PER) and (2016 NBA Champion) Kyrie Irving (27.4 PTS, 52.1% FG, 39.8% 3FG, 4.7 REB, 5.9 AST, 1.2 STL, 0.6 BLK, 24.6 PER) in Free Agency, the club proved even more ambitious in engineering a blockbuster four-team trade with the Houston Rockets, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Indiana Pacers in exchange for (2017-2018 MVP) James Harden (24.9 PTS, 49.2% FG, 42.2% 3FG, 8.5 REB, 11.4 AST, 1.2 STL, 0.7 BLK, 24.9 PER). Of course, Brooklyn paid a HEAVY price for the services of the three-time reigning scoring champion; Houston alone recouped a whopping four First Round Picks and four pick swaps from the Nets, who also shipped away much of their supporting cast, including (young Swingman) Caris LeVert and (promising Center) Jarrett Allen, along with the likes of (reserves) Taurean Prince and Rodions Kurucs. Did the franchise gut it’s roster to get Harden? Absolutely. But did they pair him with Durant and Irving in an effort to create arguably the most prolific attack in the NBA? You bet your ass they did. Since the trade (Head Coach) Steve Nash’s charges have exploded on the offensive end of the court, averaging a league-high 123.1 points per game on 51.1% shooting from the field, including 41.6% from beyond the arc, along with 27.6 assists in comparison to just 13.3 turnovers, en route to amassing a 15-6 record over that span, including eight wins in a row. Furthermore, they’ve managed to top 120 points on thirteen occasions, including in each their last two outings. What’s been remarkable though is that this eruption has occurred with the league’s latest Big Three all on the hardwood at the same time for just eight of those twenty-one. Durant was pulled at Halftime of an encounter with the Toronto Raptors three weeks ago as subject of the NBA’s Health/Safety Protocols causing him to miss the following three games before briefly returning to face his former teammates in Golden State, only to miss each of the last six contests with a tender hamstring. Nash is taking no chances with health of his biggest gun, particularly after he missed all of last season, proclaiming that the 32-year old will be held out of action through the All-Star Break (March 5th-10th). But then again, why would he when his troops have continued to play so well in his absence? Six of their last eight wins have come without Durant on the hardwood, with the Nets hammering their opponents by an average margin of 12.7 points per game on 52.4% shooting overall and 45.4% from three. Harden has really proved his value as the reigning three-time scoring champion has acclimated himself to his new team quicker than anyone could have predicted, seamlessly shifting between being a prolific scorer and teeing up his teammates; over the last six games without KD he has averaged 29.3 points on 50.8% shooting, including 49.1% from downtown, with 9.3 rebounds and 10.7 assists. Oh and have we failed to mention that the bearded assassin is also LEADING the NBA in assists as well (11.1)? However, in addition to Harden’s exploits, Brooklyn has received excellent contributions from a Supporting Cast that many wrote off as decimated following the trade, with (sharpshooting Forward) Joe Harris (15.1 PTS, 53.4% FG, 50.9% 3FG, 3.5 REB, 1.8 AST, 0.5 STL, 15.3 PER) relishing all the attention that his teammates have drawn, while the unheralded Bruce Brown (7.7 PTS, 58.1% FG, 22.2% 3FG, 4.5 REB, 1.2 AST, 0.8 STL, 15.1 PER) has emerged as a pleasant surprise for the Coaching Staff, averaging 18.7 points over the last three games, highlighted by a career-high twenty-nine in the Nets’ 127-118 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday night.
“We can’t start every game like how we’ve started the rest of the games during this kind of streak. So we’ve just got to turn the next page and we put a few possessions together and we ended the first quarter well and I feel like that put us in position to take control of the pace of the game.”Kyrie Irving on extending the Nets winning streak to eight games despite a slow start in Thursday night’s eventual 129-92 thrashing of the Magic
When we last saw the Nets, they managed to extend their NBA-best winning streak to eight games as they absolutely CRUSHED the Orlando Magic in a 129-92 thrashing on Thursday night. Of course, this matchup served to encapsulate just how far this team has come since acquiring Harden in that blockbuster deal back on January 13th, for the first opponent that Brooklyn faced with the nine-time All-Star in their colors was in fact Orlando, whom they bested 122-115 at Barclays Center back on January 16th. On that night, the Magic (who were much healthier) put up much more of a fight, though the hosts managed to outlast them in a spirited affair. Harden made quite the first impression with a Triple-Double (32 PTS, 12 REB, 14 AST), while Durant posted a game-high forty-two points as Irving was away from the team due to personal reasons. Fast-forward roughly six weeks and you can see how this team has progressed under Nash; the home side shot 53.3% from the field, including 20-of-45 from beyond the arc (44.4%), with thirty assists in comparison to eleven turnovers, while outrebounding the visiting side 51-35. Believe it or not, Orlando actually lead after one, heading into the Second Quarter with a 28-24 advantage, though that would be where everything changed. Brooklyn dominated the second period to the tune of 41-19, shooting an insane 16-of-22 from the floor (72.7%), including 7-of-11 from downtown (63.6%), outscoring the visitors by twelve points in that last regard. And if that wasn’t enough, the Nets finished them off in the Fourth Quarter, where they blew them out 37-20, as (sharpshooting Guard) Landry Shamet (7.7 PTS, 38.7% FG, 36.2% 3FG, 1.7 REB, 1.2 AST, 0.5 STL, 9.5 PER) scored sixteen of his nineteen points off the Bench. In the end, Harden once again flirted with a Triple-Double en route to totaling twenty points, nine rebounds and seven assists, while Irving logged a team-high twenty-seven points on 11-of-18 shooting (61.1%), with five rebounds and nine assists. The aforementioned tandem of Brown and Harris also added fourteen apiece, with the latter netting 4-of-6 attempts from three (66.7%). As a team, Brooklyn topped 120 points for the twentieth time this season, tying a franchise record in a mere thirty-four games, while drilling at least twenty three-pointers for the third time this season, all of which have come in these last six games without Durant. Furthermore, their opponent certainly didn’t help themselves in committing eighteen turnovers which they in turn manufactured into twenty-four points, with many of them fueling a decisive advantage in transition points for the home side (Plus-19).