8:30 PM EST, NBA TV – Line: Mavericks -4, Over/Under: 226
Lone Star State rivals meet for the second time this season, as the Dallas Mavericks play host to the San Antonio Spurs from American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas, as both teams emerge from the All-Star Break fixated on getting into the Playoffs. One of the more surprising teams in the National Basketball Association this season, the Spurs (18-14, 7th in Western Conference) have managed to exceed expectations as they find themselves clinging to their position on the fringes of the postseason picture out West. Just three games separate Seeds Six through Ten in the Conference, with San Antonio trailing the Denver Nuggets by a single game for Sixth, while leading their opponent tonight, the Mavericks, by that same margin in the standings. While it’s appropriate to label this team surprising, it should come as no surprise that in a season that has been so unique given the absurdly quick turnaround, the condensed schedule, the lack of fans, and the NBA’s widening Health/Safety Protocols, that they’ve managed to survive to this point with Gregg Popovich leading them. The longest-tenured Head Coach in the league, Popovich has seen it all and done it all over the course of his twenty-five seasons with the franchise; the 72-year old has won 1,295 games since taking over back in 1996 (including another 170 in the Playoffs), and over the last quarter century has guided the Spurs to twenty-two consecutive postseason appearances (which coincidentally came to an end last year), an outrageously successful period highlighted by six Larry O’Brien trophies (tied for third-most in NBA history). Simply put, there isn’t anyone else that you’d rather have to lead a team through such a difficult period of time, particularly when the team in question finds themselves squarely in the middle; it’s been seven years since this club was a champion, and it’s seriously been about five years since they’ve been anything close to a contender, though they’re clearly strong enough to win enough games out West to get into the Playoffs. Even with (veteran Forward) LaMarcus Aldridge (13.7 PTS, 46.4% FG, 36.0% 3FG, 4.5 REB, 1.7 AST, 0.9 BLK, 14.9 PER) missing nine games due to injuries and illness and all activities being paused for the better part of ten days due to COVID-19 with a number of different players being cited for contact tracing, Popovich has nonetheless managed to keep his charges heads above water. Following that ten-day hiatus, San Antonio won two out of three games heading into the All-Star Break, and should finally be completely healthy as they embark on the second half of the campaign. Even at 35-years old, Aldridge still provides a useful reference point for the offense, while being able to step away from the paint and knock down that smooth jumper that he’s made such a living off of for the past decade. Fellow veteran Forward, Rudy Gay (11.2 PTS, 42.9% FG, 36.6% 3FG, 5.2 REB, 1.5 AST, 0.7 STL, 13.9 PER), along with (Point Guard) Derrick White (11.8 PTS, 39.5% FG, 34.1% 3FG, 1.8 REB, 3.9 AST, 1.0 STL, 1.0 BLK, 15.1 PER) should be cleared of all Health/Safety Protocols, providing more depth and versatility on both ends of the hardwood. Credit to Popovich for putting on the surface looks like a group of disparate pieces into a cohesive unit. Aldridge consistently refused to play Center, but has nonetheless been effective in that role, while (Former All-Star Guard) DeMar DeRozan (20.0 PTS, 48.4% FG, 30.8% 3FG, 4.9 REB, 7.2 AST, 0.9 STL, 21.6 PER) has thrived in the slashing/mid-range/playmaking role that is his specialty. Furthermore, the young supporting cast featuring the likes of (young Point Guard) Dejounte Murray (15.8 PTS, 45.6% FG, 32.4% 3FG, 7.0 REB, 5.4 AST, 1.6 STL, 17.2 PER) and (Swingmen) Keldon Johnson (14.1 PTS, 47.2% FG, 32.6% 3FG, 6.7 REB, 2.2 AST, 0.8 STL, 15.4 PER) and Lonnie Walker (11.3 PTS, 40.2% FG, 35.8% 3FG, 2.9 REB, 1.8 AST, 0.5 STL, 8.9 PER), along with (towering Center) Jakob Poeltl (6.5 PTS, 61.0% FG, 7.3 REB, 1.8 AST, 1.6 BLK, 16.2 PER) have all continued to grow in a system that has long made it’s money on turning inefficient players into efficient ones. On the season, the Spurs allow just 110.9 points per game (10th Overall), thanks in large part to not giving their opponents cheap, easy possessions; no team has committed fewer turnovers (11.2), throwing the basketball away on a just 10.0% of their possessions, while also committing only 17.4 fouls (2nd Overall), parlaying to 19.4 free-throw attempts a night (5th Overall). However, while simply not beating themselves has been enough to reach this point, the looming schedule looks HARSH; after playing the easiest schedule in the NBA, including just thirteen games on the road, the Spurs are set to play FORTY games over the next two months, due to all of those games that need to be made up, which includes tonight’s affair with the Mavericks.
“We’re not a team that gives up 26 points on turnovers. It’s a clear indication of being sloppy, of being tired. Its’ going to happen.”Gregg Popovich on the Spurs committing a season-high 19 turnovers in last week’s 107-102 loss at home to the Thunder, which were parlayed into 26 points
When we last saw the Spurs, they entered the All-Star Break on a dour note via a 107-102 loss at home to the Oklahoma City Thunder in an affair that was more notable for the players that weren’t available than those who were. Earlier we touched upon the number of missing bodies of late for San Antonio, and this game was the height of that; the aforementioned Aldridge, Gay, and White, along with (2020 First Round Pick) Devin Vassell (5.5 PTS, 39.7% FG, 39.7% 3FG, 3.2 REB, 1.1 AST, 1.1 STL, 12.5 PER) all sat out of the First Half Finale, and that lack of talent coupled with fatigue really factored into the outcome of this contest. The hosts led 61-50 at halftime largely on the strength of a 37-23 Second Quarter in which they shot 14-of-26 from the field (53.8%) in comparison to 6-of-20 for the visitors (30.0%), including 1-of-10 from three (10.0%). However, the Second Half of this one was a very different story as Oklahoma City would outscore the home side 57-41 after intermission, with Popovich no doubt lamenting the fact that his charges were done in largely on the strength of their aforementioned strengths being turned against them. For a team that rarely beats themselves, committing a season-high NINETEEN turnovers, thirteen of which came over the final two quarters, will no doubt drive the venerable strategist crazy. The Thunder parlayed all of those turnovers into twenty-six points, which made up for their poor shooting overall (43.5%). The other issue was free-throws; they rarely put their opponents on the charity stripe, but that wasn’t case here, with OKC netting 21-of-26 free-throws (80.8%) opposed to 12-of-12 for San Antonio (100.0%). In the end, DeRozan led the team with twenty points on just 8-of-21 shooting (38.1%), along with six rebounds and four assists, while Murray added another fourteen points on 7-of-13 shooting (53.8%), with four rebounds and nine assists, though the two players combined for nine turnovers as well. (Backup Big) Trey Lyles (5.8 PTS, 50.6% FG, 37.8% 3FG, 4.1 REB, 12.9 PER) played well in Aldridge’s absence in posting fifteen points on 7-of-9 shooting (77.8%) and ten rebounds, while Walker chipped in with eleven points largely on 3-of-4 shooting from beyond the arc (75.0%). (Veteran sniper) Patty Mills (13.3 PTS, 44.8% FG, 40.2% 3FG, 1.8 REB, 2.7 AST, 14.4 PER) totaled thirteen points off the bench, making his 1,023rd career three-pointer, which moves him into sixth place all-time in terms of reserves.
Meanwhile, their opponent may have exceeded expectations thus far, but that notion has not applied to the Mavericks (18-16, 8th in Western Conference), who will continue to spend the rest of this season climbing out of the hole that they had dug for themselves. Initially pegged to take the next step and become one of the true contenders out West, it appears that Dallas is 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 (including their opponent tonight) this season, though some have been plagued more so than others and the Mavs have absolutely found themselves within that dubious category. (Head Coach) Rick Carlisle has used a league-high SEVENTEEN different Starting Lineups thus far in the thirty-four 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. With that said, since the calendar has transitioned into February, they’ve gone 10-4, including three consecutive victories heading into the All-Star Break, which has coincidentally positioned them on the fringe of the Playoffs out West. Like San Antonio, they will face an accelerated schedule moving forward, with thirty-eight games over the next two months to make up for the time that they lost due to the virus. So what has been the key to their turnaround, you ask? They’re healthy now, plain and simple. (Towering sniper) Kristaps Porzingis (20.2 PTS, 46.9% FG, 34.9% 3FG, 8.4 REB, 1.4 AST, 1.6 BLK, 20.8 PER), looks to finally be back in shape after missing the first nine games of the campaign following offseason knee surgery, along with another three games due to tightness in his lower back. Reports out of Dallas indicate that the franchise has been exploring trade scenarios for the seven-foot Latvian international, though there hasn’t been anything concrete to emerge in recent weeks. It’s also helped immensely that the supporting cast consisting of (Guards) Josh Richardson (12.7 PTS, 42.7% FG, 28.8% 3FG, 3.3 REB, 2.5 AST, 0.9 STL, 11.2 PER) and Jalen Brunson (12.7 PTS, 53.1% FG, 40.2% 3FG, 3.5 REB, 3.4 AST, 0.5 STL, 17.4 PER) along with (Forwards) Dorian Finney-Smith (8.2 PTS, 42.8% FG, 34.5% 3FG, 5.1 REB, 1.4 AST, 1.0 STL, 9.7 PER) and Maxi Kleber (7.0 PTS, 44.0% FG, 45.1% 3FG, 5.3 REB, 1.4 AST, 0.5 STL, 0.9 BLK, 11.8 PER) have all returned to fitness after missing weeks due to the virus. Brunson in particular has been stellar since getting back on the hardwood, averaging 16.2 points per game over the last nine outings, shooting an efficient 55.7% from the field, including 40.5% from downtown over that period, alleviating the pressure from (All-NBA Guard) Luka Doncic (28.6 PTS, 47.8% FG, 35.7% 3FG, 8.4 REB, 9.0 AST, 1.0 STL, 0.7 BLK, 26.2 PER). Speaking of the Slovenian sensation, the 22-year old has been the lone constant for the club through their struggles, and now that his teammates are healthy, he’s showing why so many people were bullish on both he and the Mavs heading into this season. Over the last twelve games, Doncic has averaged 30.9 points on 50.0% shooting from the field, including 44.9% from three, along with 7.5 rebounds, 8.3 assists, and a steal, with the team going 9-3 over that period. Since returning from the COVID-induced pause in play, Dallas has really found their stride, winning all but one of their last six outings, though that success has been largely attributed to their improvement on the defensive end of the court where they’ve relegated their opponents to just 101.7 points per game on 42.4% shooting, including 32.7% from beyond the arc, while outrebounding them by 0.5 boards. Needless to say, this is the most impressive defensive stretch that they’ve managed this season, and while it’s sustainability is certainly debatable it’s a welcome surprise nonetheless for a team looking to continue climbing the proverbial ladder out West.
“I liked the looks. Some nights you’ve just to keep firing them up there. We’ve been shooting the 3 well, particularly the last three, three and a half weeks. I just liked the way we stuck to the process in the second half.”Rick Carlisle on the Mavericks poor shooting from the perimeter without Luka Doncic in the lineup in last week’s 87-78 victory over the Thunder
When we last saw the Mavericks, they won their third consecutive outing to close out the First Half of the season, besting the Oklahoma City Thunder in in a low-scoring 87-78 affair from American Airlines Center, doing so without their biggest gun. In lieu of the All-Star Break, Carlisle decided to give Doncic the night off as the third-year stud was dealing with tightness his back. Without their leader in scoring, rebounds, assists, and steals, it would no doubt be interesting to see how Dallas would manage as they faced an Oklahoma City side that was clearly fatigued after traveling to San Antonio the previous night, leading by as many as twenty-two points. Indeed, the Thunder were gassed and the numbers absolutely support that observation; OKC shot a season-low 33.3% from the field, including 9-of-39 from beyond the arc (23.1%), and committed as many turnovers as they had assists (13). The hosts weren’t much better, shooting 38.6% overall, including 8-of-40 from downtown (20.0%), but nonetheless earned their advantage by taking better care of the basketball (18 AST/12 TO) and making the visitors pay for there’s with nineteen points off turnovers, while also netting 15-of-19 free-throws (78.9%) in comparison to 11-of-17 for the Thunder (64.7%). Carlisle’s charges also outscored them 15-7 in transition, providing further proof of just how tired the visiting side really was. To put things into proper context, Oklahoma City couldn’t break twenty points in any of the final three quarters of action. In the end, the aforementioned Porzingis led the way with nineteen points and thirteen rebounds, shooting 7-of-15 from the floor (46.7%), including 3-of-6 from three (50.0%), with (veteran Guard) Tim Hardaway Jr. (16.4 PTS, 43.8% FG, 38.5% 3FG, 3.2 REB, 1.7 AST, 0.6 STL, 14.7 PER) also scoring nineteen, with six rebounds and a pair of assists. Richardson added sixteen points and four steals, but struggled mightily from the field on 5-of-14 shooting (35.7%), including 1-of-8 from long-range (12.5%). Brunson, who started in place of Doncic, ended the game with eleven points, six rebounds, four assists, and a pair of steals. Now they’ll welcome San Antonio, whom they defeated in four of their last five meetings, including a 122-117 affair back on January 22nd. Doncic nearly posted a Triple-Double in that meeting with a game-high thirty-six points, nine rebounds, and eleven assists, while Porzingis and Hardaway added another twenty-one points apiece in the victory.