7:30 PM EST, ESPN – Line: 76ers -2.5, Over/Under: 218.5
A pair of teams looking to close out the Regular Season trending upward face off in the Lone Star State, as the Dallas Mavericks play host to the East-leading Philadelphia 76ers from American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. With nineteen games left before the Playoffs kick off next month, it’s been a rather remarkable run thus far for 76ers (36-17, 1st in Eastern Conference), who have spent nearly the entirety of the campaign in First Place in the East, despite relentless pressure from the Brooklyn Nets (whom they currently sit tied with in the Standings) since the middle of January when they acquired (former MVP) James Harden in the NBA’s latest blockbuster deal. Of course, much of the success that Philadelphia has enjoyed this year has come from the seismic changes that they made to their franchise during the (truncated) Offseason last Fall; the club moved on from (longtime former Head Coach) Brett Brown, welcoming in the venerable Doc Rivers as his replacement alongside (former Executive of the Year) Daryl Morey to lead their front office. Rivers and Morey immediately set out to rebuild their ill-fitting roster, sending the likes of (All-Star Forward) Al Horford and (young Guard) Josh Richardson to the Oklahoma City Thunder and Dallas Mavericks in separate deals netting the likes of (two-time reigning NBA Champion) Danny Green (9.8 PTS, 42.2% FG, 41.5% 3FG, 3.7 REB, 1.7 AST, 1.3 STL, 0.9 BLK,12.1 PER) and (sharpshooting Guard) Seth Curry (12.3 PTS, 44.7% FG, 40.7% 3FG, 2.2 REB, 2.9 AST, 0.8 STL,12.0 PER) in a concerted effort to bring more spacing and shooting to a rotation that was in dire need of it last season. As a result, the offense has been far more balanced than it’s predecessor, with the Sixers averaging 113.7 points per game (10th Overall) on 47.6% shooting from the field (10th Overall), including 53.3% from within the arc (13th Overall) and 36.7% beyond it (15th Overall), while also making quite the living at the charity stripe where they lead the Association in both free-throws made (20.1) and attempted (26.2). Accounting for nearly half of those attempts is (All-NBA Center) Joel Embiid (29.4 PTS, 51.8% FG, 37.5% 3FG, 11.1 REB, 3.1 AST, 1.1 STL, 1.5 BLK, 30.7 PER), who prior to a hyperextended knee suffered back on March 12th was arguably the frontrunner for Most Valuable Player. The 27-year old has thrived under the tutelage of Rivers, posting career-highs in a slew of categories including points (29.4), field goal percentage (51.8%), two-point percentage (54.6%), three-point percentage (37.5%), free-throw percentage (84.9%), steals (1.1), and PER (30.7). Furthermore, his frequent trips to the stripe have seen him net 9.8 singles per game, with an outside chance of becoming the first player since WILT CHAMBERLAIN to record at least ten free-throws per game. Surprisingly, his teammates handled themselves quite well without the behemoth patrolling the paint, winning seven of the ten games in which he was sidelined to injury; Rivers’ charges averaged 110.6 points on 46.9% shooting, including a torrid 38.5% from downtown during that stretch, while managing to hammer the opposition on the glass (Plus-5.3 REB) and force 14.9 turnovers per game. With that said, this is no one-man band in the City of Brotherly Love, for there is plenty of firepower to be found on a roster packed with weapons. Both Green and Curry have provided the necessary spacing to create opportunities for (All-Star Point Guard) Ben Simmons (15.0 PTS, 54.5% FG, 33.3% 3FG, 7.7 REB, 7.1 AST, 1.6 STL, 0.6 BLK, 17.9 PER) and (veteran Swingman) Tobias Harris (20.6 PTS, 52.0% FG, 40.1% 3FG, 7.3 REB, 3.6 AST, 0.9 STL, 0.8 BLK, 20.6 PER), who have both flourished under Rivers’ guidance, with the former emerging as the league’s most formidable perimeter defender, while the latter has also posted a number of career-bests, including scoring (20.6), field goal percentage (52.0%), three-point percentage (40.1%), and assists (3.6). Philadelphia was one of many teams to further bolster their ranks at the Trade Deadline, adding the services of the oft-traveled George Hill (11.8 PTS, 50.8% FG, 38.6% 3FG, 2.1 REB, 3.1 AST, 0.9 STL, 16.1 PER) in a three-team deal with the New York Knicks and Oklahoma City Thunder, with the veteran Guard expected to add some shooting and spacing to the backcourt once he eventually returns from a sprained thumb. Speaking of injuries, though they have welcomed Embiid back to the hardwood, the aforementioned Green (hip) and Harris (knee) missed their most recent outing, a 117-93 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday Night (more on this matchup shortly), and aren’t expected to make their return until the conclusion of this four-game road trip tonight.
“When it comes to the MVP stuff, I feel like I’m still right there… When I’m on the floor, I feel like I’ve been the best all season, just doing my thing, just dominating with the help of my teammates and the coaches putting me in the right positions to succeed.”Joel Embiid on his MVP credentials following a 117-93 drubbing of the Oklahoma City Thunder in which he totaled 27 points, 9 rebounds, and four assists and blocks apiece in just over twenty-seven minutes of action.
When we last saw the 76ers, they managed to bounce back from a 101-94 loss at the new Orleans Pelicans by absolutely taking the aforementioned Thunder to task in a 117-93 rout that was never close to being competitive. This one was over early, folks, as the visitors outscored the hosts 37-25 in the First Quarter, shooting a stellar 16-of-29 from the field (55.2%), frequently turning Oklahoma City’s mistakes (5 turnovers) against them. Embiid, Simmons, and (Turkish international) Furkan Korkmaz (9.0 PTS, 39.7% FG, 36.5% 3FG, 2.1 REB, 1.2 AST, 0.9 STL, 11.9 PER) each scored ten point in the period, with the big fella also logging four rebounds and a pair of assists in the process. In the end, Philadelphia shot 46.8% from the floor, and only 12-of-38 from beyond the arc (31.6%), but this one was all about turnovers, with the home side committing TWENTY-TWO of the them, which the visiting side was all-too happy to exploit in turning those wasted possessions into a staggering THIRTY-TWO points. Two nights after mustering just fourteen points on 5-of-16 shooting (31.3%) at New Orleans, Embiid responded in a big way finishing with a game-high twenty-seven points on 10-of-17 shooting (58.8%), along with nine rebounds, four assists, and four blocks in just over twenty-seven minutes of action. Rivers’ troops also held sizable advantages in free-throws (Plus-8), and turnovers (Plus-13), committing just nine themselves, which is just the seventh time all season that they’ve totaled single-digits. Embiid’s exploits aside, five other players scored in double-figures, including Korkmaz, whose twenty points marked a season-high, while Simmons and Curry added thirteen and eleven points respectively. The bench was rather productive as well, accounting for forty-three points with reserves, Mike Scott (4.3 PTS, 36.4% FG, 34.9% 3FG, 2.7 REB, 6.6 PER) and Shake Milton (13.7 PTS, 45.1% FG, 32.4% 3FG, 2.3 REB, 2.9 AST, 14.7 PER), combining for twenty-five points on 10-of 23 shooting (43.4%), including 5-of-13 from long-range (38.4%). The Sixers will be looking to close out this road trip with success in Dallas, particularly given how their previous ended up in a one-sided, 111-97 drubbing back in Philadelphia on February 25th. The hosts committed a season-low seven turnovers while forcing the Mavs into eighteen, with Simmons harassing Luka Doncic (more on him in a bit) into seven of those miscues, while Embiid knocked down 11-of-12 free-throws (91.7%) en route to twenty-three points along with the nine rebounds and four assists.
Meanwhile, there is a sense of urgency coming from Northern Texas, as the Mavericks (29-23, 7th in Western Conference) find themselves with ZERO margin for error over their final twenty games of the Regular Season. Though the COVID-19 pandemic has effected just about every team in the Association this season in a variety of ways, few were handed a more difficult hand than Dallas, particularly earlier in the campaign. Six different players have missed at least ten games thus far due to the virus, with (Head Coach) Rick Carlisle forced to get creative with his lineups, employing an NBA-high twenty different starting fives. As a result, continuity was something that was VERY difficult to grasp during a period in which they had lost ten of thirteen games at one point, including a season-high six-game losing streak. Needless to say, this was waaaaaaay off the initial projections for a team that was thought to be a dark horse contender out West, with (two-time All-Star Guard) Luka Doncic (28.5 PTS, 48.5% FG, 36.7% 3FG, 8.1 REB, 8.7 AST, 1.0 STL, 25.6 PER) entering the season as the favorite to win MVP. While the Slovenian sensation certainly hasn’t disappointed in 2020-2021, he has been at a loss without the necessary consistency of his supporting cast, which is precisely why the Mavs couldn’t climb above .500 until right before the All-Star Break. However, now that they’ve managed to return to full strength, we’re seeing them round into the formidable side that was so efficient on the offensive end of the court last season; since that aforementioned losing streak they have won twenty of their last twenty-nine outings, averaging 113.3 points per game on 47.8% shooting from the field, including 38.2% from beyond the arc, while dishing out 22.4 assists in comparison to committing just 11.1 turnovers, while outrebounding the opposition 1.6 boards a night. Doncic has shot a career-high 48.5% from the field and 36.7% from downtown, aided by a blistering 50.0% shooting over the last eight games in which his side have gone 6-2. We’ve touched upon the supporting cast, and their return to health, and there have been many of their number o make a positive impact now that they’ve been handed a clean bill of health following the NBA’s Health & Safety Protocols. (Towering Center) Kristaps Porzingis (20.7 PTS, 48.0% FG, 36.9% 3FG, 9.4 REB, 1.6 AST, 1.6 BLK, 22.1 PER) finally looks fit after undergoing knee surgery during the abridged Offseason, with the Latvian international averaging 21.1 points on 48.4% shooting overall and 39.8% from three, along with 10.6 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks a night. Subject to trade rumors at the Deadline, the Mavericks have seen their patience tested with a talented young player who has been routinely beset by injuries, though they ultimately decided to retain his services as no legitimate suitors came to the proverbial bargaining table. Josh Richardson (12.5 PTS 43.0% FG, 32.0% 3FG, 3.6 REB, 2.8 AST, 0.9 STL, 11.7 PER), who was a member of the 76ers just last season, has finally found his niche after initially struggling to acclimate himself with his new team; far from the shooter that is the man he has replaced (Curry), the 27-year old has become a solid compliment to Doncic, with his slashing and driving bringing balance to a side that features a wealth of jump-shooters. And speaking of shooters, Dallas was also busy at the Trade Deadline, acquiring the services of (veteran sniper) J.J. Redick (8.7 PTS, 40.7% FG, 36.4% 3FG, 1.7 REB, 1.3 AST, 11.1 PER) in a deal with the New Orleans Pelicans. The well-traveled 36-year old is currently on the shelf with a heel injury, but is expected to return to the hardwood well before the Playoffs begin, with his stellar shooting from the perimeter (41.5% 3FG) over the course of his career helping to fill the void left by Curry’s departure. And speaking of the Playoffs, this surge from the Mavs has vaulted them up the standings out West, where they currently sit seventh, which is significant because it is the highest side to take part in the NBA’s Play-In Tournament, in which Seeds Seven through Ten will compete in a brief tourney before the victors move on to battle the First and Second Seeds in the Conference. At the moment, Carlisle’s troops trail the Portland Trail Blazers by 1.5 games for Sixth, while sitting a comfortable 2.5 games ahead of the Memphis Grizzlies. If the Playoffs were to indeed begin today, they would be matched up with the Golden State Warriors, which in this format is no doubt something that anyone could say that they would really be looking forward to, though Luka versus Steph Curry would be perfect postseason theater.
“We’re a team that’s still learning some lessons about keeping our guard up, navigating through a very busy schedule… It’s not an excuse. It’s just a fact. We’ve come a long way.”Rick Carlisle on the Mavericks’ 119-117 loss to the struggling San Antonio Spurs on Sunday Night, four days after dropping a disappointing 102-93 loss to the woeful Houston Rockets.
When we last saw the Mavericks, they followed a stellar 116-101 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks with a last-second 119-117 narrow defeat to the sliding San Antonio Spurs, who snapped a season-high five-game losing streak with the win on Sunday Night. After winning each of their first two meetings against their Lone Star State rival, Dallas came oh so close to completing what would have been their first season sweep of their southern neighbors in forty-one years. With the affair squared away at 117-117, (veteran Guard) DeMar DeRozan came off a well-placed screen and with just one defender in his way, calmly stepped back to bury the game-winning 20-footer. On the night, Carlisle’s charges shot 47.9% from the field, including a poor 13-of-42 from beyond the arc (31.0%), though San Antonio managed to shoot a blistering 54.2% from the floor, and 8-of-21 from three (38.1%). Porzingis finished with a team-high thirty-one points on 12-of-21 shooting (57.1%), along with fifteen rebounds before fouling out with two minutes left to play. Doncic added twenty-nine points, though despite 10-of-17 shooting overall (58.8%) and 7-of-8 shooting from the charity stripe (87.5%), turned in a rather poor performance from downtown, netting only 2-of-8 attempts (25.0%). The aforementioned Richardson had sixteen points on 7-of-14 shooting (50.0%), five rebounds and three assists, while Jalen Brunson (12.8 PTS, 52.4% FG, 40.0% 3FG, 3.5 REB, 3.4 AST, 0.5 STL, 16.9 PER) chipped in with eleven points off the bench. Carlisle was pleased to see the return of (reserve Center) Willie Cauley-Stein (5.5 PTS, 62.2% FG, 4.3 REB, 0.7 AST, 14.7 PER) following a twelve-game absence due to COVID-19, though the big man did not see any action, as (German international) Maxi Kleber (7.6 PTS, 43.7% FG, 43.3% 3FG, 5.5 REB, 1.4 AST, 0.5 STL, 0.7 BLK, 10.9 PER) missed the affair with soreness in his lower right leg, marking the third time in five outings that he has been out of play. This loss was no doubt a disappointing one for the Mavs, who have seen their lone blemishes over the last two weeks come against struggling Texas sides, dropping their meeting with the fading Houston Rockets, 102-93, on April 7th. Needless to say, they’ll need to regain their focus, for the schedule moving forward following tonight’s matchup with the 76ers is furious (seven in ten days) yet accommodating, with all but one (at Memphis) to be contested at American Airlines Center.