9:00 PM EST – Line: Mavericks -5, Over/Under: 232.5
A pair of teams that were rocked by COVID-19 earlier in the season only claw their way back to the Playoff Field clash tonight in North Texas, as the surging Dallas Mavericks play host to the red-hot Washington Wizards from American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. Few teams in the league were effected by the coronavirus pandemic more so than the Wizards (29-34, 10th in Eastern Conference), who got off to one of the most dreadful starts to the campaign, with much of their retooled roster unable to get on the hardwood due to the NBA’s persistent Health and Safety Protocols. Coming into the season, many thought that Washington could be a legitimate dark horse contender within the East, particularly after flipping the oft-injured John Wall in a deal with the Houston Rockets for (2016-2017 MVP) Russell Westbrook (21.6 PTS, 43.6% FG, 30.9% 3FG, 11.2 REB, 11.0 AST, 1.3 STL, 18.4 PER). Pairing the nine-time All-Star alongside the emerging Bradley Beal (31.1 PTS, 48.5% FG, 34.9% 3FG, 4.7 REB, 4.5 AST, 1.1 STL, 22.9 PER) gave (Head Coach) Scott Brooks the requisite firepower to compete with just about anyone, but this team’s rise would be seriously delayed by the virus; the Wiz dug themselves a serious hole early on, going a dismal 6-17 out of the gate, going nearly two weeks unable to practice let alone play due to far too many players subject to those Health and Safety Protocols, with Westbrook missing six of the first eighteen games himself. However, this team would slowly return to health, and would go one to win eight of eleven heading into the All-Star Break in an attempt to secure a position in the Play-In Tournament. Unfortunately, they would struggle mightily following the Break, losing twelve of fifteen games, leaving many to wonder whether or not the Front Office would blow up the roster in the Offseason. And then something interesting happened: they started winning games again. Brooks has clearly discovered a formula for success, with Westbrook and Beal carrying an all-of-a-sudden prolific offense that has averaged 121.4 points on an efficient 50.4% shooting from the field, including 38.4% from beyond the arc, while dishing out a healthy 27.0 assists in comparison to committing 14.3 turnovers, encompassing a stretch in which they’ve won all but two of their last fourteen games. Any concerns over whether or not they won the Westbrook/Wall deal have been emphatically put rest, with the 32-year old racking up Triple-Double after Triple-Double just as he did under Brooks’ watch in Oklahoma City; Westbrook has averaged 20.9 points, 13.4 rebounds, and 12.6 assists over the last fourteen games, registering a Triple-Double on a remarkable twelve occasions during this stretch. Beal, who trails Golden State’s Steph Curry by a mere 0.2 points per game for the lead in scoring at 31.1 points per game, has been a force at the offensive end, logging 30.3 points on an efficient 48.4% shooting overall, including 38.9% from downtown, along with 3.9 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.0 steals during this run that has repositioned the club back into the Playoff Field. With Westbrook four Triple-Doubles away from tying (Hall of Famer) Oscar Robertson on the all-time list and currently leading the NBA in assists (11.0), the Wizards could become the first team since the 1981-1982 San Antonio Spurs to feature the league leaders in both scoring and assists. If the Postseason were to begin today, the Wizards would occupy the final place in the Play-In Tournament, sitting two games ahead of the Chicago Bulls for Tenth in the East, and facing off against the reigning Eastern Conference Champion, Miami Heat, in a brief series, needing to win back-to-back games against them in order to advance to the First Round of the Playoffs. With that said, it remains to be seen how this group will perform against stronger competition, for much of their recent success can be chalked up to taking advantage of the softer part of their schedule; of their last fourteen opponents, only FOUR have winning records, and their recent victory over the defending NBA Champion, Lakers (more on that one shortly), came with the likes of LeBron James sidelined due to injury and Anthony Davis still clearly getting back into game shape following a lengthy absence. Don’t tell that to Washington though, for a win is a win is a win, and after missing the Playoffs in each of the past two seasons there is an organizational emphasis on returning to the Postseason for after all, this upcoming Offseason stands to be a rather significant one for all parties involved, as Westbrook turns thirty-three and Brooks’ job hangs in the balance, all the while Beal threatens to become the next young superstar to demand a change of scenery. This team needs to win NOW, folks, otherwise they will in all likelihood look very different when we see them again next season.
“When you get mentioned with great names like Oscar and you get complimented by him like I’ve been, it’s truly an honor and something you don’t take for granted… I’m just grateful to be in a conversation with my name connected to his.”Russell Westbrook on amassing his 31st Triple-Double of the season in Washington’s 122-93 route of Cleveland on Friday Night, tying Wilt Chamberlain for fourth-most in a single season and pulling within four of Oscar Robertson atop the all-time list.
When we last saw the Wizards, they continued their push towards the Playoffs winning their twelfth game in fourteen outings in a 122-93 romp over the Cleveland Cavaliers, which featured a good deal of history for one Russell Westbrook. We talked about his pursuit of the venerable Oscar Robertson earlier, and with his thirty-first Triple-Double of the campaign he tied none other than Wilt Chamberlain for the fourth-most Triple-Doubles in a single season, which is quite the feat. Of course, Westbrook set the single record for that particular statistic with a staggering FORTY-TWO back in 2016-2017. Though this particular affair was relatively close in the First Half with the visitors leading 58-52 at Halftime, Washington put their foot on the gas in the Third Quarter in which they outscored Cleveland 33-16, shooting 12-of-25 from the field (48.0%) in comparison to a dismal 5-of-21 for the Cavs (23.8%). The key statistic in the period was turnovers, with the visiting side committing just one opposed to eight for the hosts, which allowed Brooks’ troops to push the tempo and get out into transition where they thrive. In the end, the Wizards shot a stellar 50.0% overall, assisting on thirty-one of their forty-six field goals, while turning it over just twelve times, which was in stark contrast to the Cavaliers, who coughed up the rock on a whopping TWENTY-FIVE occasions, which led to thirty points for the visitors. If Triple-Doubles can look routine, then it’s all Westbrook’s fault as the veteran finished with fifteen points, twelve rebounds, and eleven assists as seven different players scored in double-figures with none scoring over nineteen. Beal led the way with that number but struggled on 8-of-24 shooting from the field (33.3%), though (Backup Guard) Raul Neto (8.4 PTS, 46.6% FG, 38.8% 3FG, 2.4 REB, 2.2 AST, 1.1 STL, 12.9 PER) added seventeen in a rare starting nod on 6-of-7 shooting (85.7%), along with five rebounds and three assists, while (Rookie Forward) Rui Hachimura (13.4 PTS, 46.9% FG, 32.5% 3FG, 5.6 REB, 1.5 AST, 0.8 STL, 11.2 PER) chipped in with eleven points and five boards. Brooks’ bench played strongly as well, with the triumvirate of Ish Smith (6.2 PTS, 42.5% FG, 36.8% 3FG, 3.2 REB, 4.2 AST, 0.7 STL, 11.7 PER), Daniel Gafford (10.8 PTS, 67.4% FG, 6.1 REB, 0.4 AST, 0.8 STL, 1.9 BLK, 26.1 PER) and Anthony Gill (2.6 PTS, 54.8% FG, 30.0% 3FG, 1.9 REB, 0.5 AST, 14.9 PER) combining thirty-four points on a stellar 15-of-20 shooting (75.0%), eleven rebounds, eight assists, and six steals. After taking advantage of a relatively sift schedule during this recent surge, things are about to get more difficult for Washington who will hit the road for six of their next seven games, with trips to Milwaukee, Indiana, and Atlanta looming. With that said, the Wizards trail the Pacers in the standings by just a half-game, and face them twice in the next eight days, serving as a golden opportunity to keep climbing the ladder in the Eastern Conference.
Meanwhile, the Mavericks (35-27, 6th in Western Conference) also suffered mightily due to COIVD-19, but have since managed to fight their way back into the Playoff Field, where they look to avoid participating in the aforementioned Play-In Tournament. At one point earlier this season Dallas was just 8-13, with a number of players missing significant action due the league’s Health and Safety Protocols as the likes of Dorian Finney-Smith (9.7 PTS, 46.3% FG, 39.3% 3FG, 5.6 REB, 1.6 AST, 0.9 STL, 12.1 PER), Josh Richardson (12.2 PTS, 42.5% FG, 32.0% 3FG, 3.6 REB, 2.8 AST, 0.9 STL, 11.4 PER), Maxi Kleber (7.0 PTS, 42.6% FG, 41.8% 3FG, 5.3 REB, 1.4 AST, 0.5 STL, 0.7 BLK, 10.5 PER), Dwight Powell (5.3 PTS, 57.8% FG, 3.6 REB, 0.8 AST, 0.6 STL, 15.2 PER) and Jalen Brunson (12.5 PTS, 51.7% FG, 38.6% 3FG, 3.6 REB, 3.5 AST, 0.5 STL, 16.7 PER) missed a combined fifty-nine games due to the virus, which also caused them to pause all activities for over a week in the middle of February. Oh, and the team’s second-leading scorer, Kristaps Porzingis (20.2 PTS, 47.3% FG, 36.2% 3FG, 9.1 REB, 1.6 AST, 0.5 STL, 1.4 BLK, 1.21.2 PER), has missed twenty-two games, including the first nine contests rehabbing from Offseason knee surgery along with soreness in said knee and in his lower back. Needless to say, (Head Coach) Rick Carlisle has been one of the busier coaches in the league when it comes reshuffling his rotation, for the 61-year old has utilized a league-high TWENTY-SEVEN different starting lineups thus far. Fortunately, the quality of this group would eventually reveal itself as the roster returned to full strength, for the Mavs have done some serious climbing since the All-Star Break, putting together a 17-11 record and winning five of their last six outings. During this period they’ve averaged a stellar 117.3 points per game on 48.6% shooting from the field, including 39.7% from beyond the arc, while dishing out 23.5 assists in comparison to committing just 11.3 turnovers, all the while yielding only 106.8 points a night. As a result, they’ve ascended out of the cellar of the Western Conference and firmly into the Playoff Field, where they now reside in Sixth Place, leading the Portland Trail Blazers by one game. Why is this significant, you ask? If Dallas were to fall below Portland, then they will indeed find themselves in the Play-In Tournament, which could prove to be chaos for all teams involved. Sixth would likely spell a rematch of last year’s First Round meeting with the Los Angeles Clippers (which LA won in six games), though it would guarantee a valuable week of rest before the First Round begins. And that should be the short-term goal of this team, for even though their COVD-19 woes have gone by the wayside they have nonetheless found themselves victims of the bumps, bruises, and fatigue that is oh so common at this stage of the Regular Season. Porzingis departed Thursday Night’s victory over the Detroit Pistons (more on that shortly) with knee soreness, while neither Finney-Smith or (two-time All-Star Guard) Luka Doncic (28.6 PTS, 48.5% FG, 35.9% 3FG, 7.9 REB, 8.7 AST, 1.0 STL, 0.6 BLK, 25.8 PER) participated due to ailments of their own. The health of the latter is something that Carlisle and his Medical Staff will be keeping close eye on, for the Slovenian sensation has been the lone constant for the Mavericks this season, keeping them in the mix while so many of his teammates were subject of the league’s Health and Safety Protocols, and now serving as the driving force up the proverbial Playoff ladder. The 22-year old has continued his meteoric rise to superstardom in 2020-2021, shooting a career-high 48.5% from the field, including 35.9% from downtown, and has amassed a staggering THIRTY-FIVE games with at least twenty-five points, five rebounds, and five assists. Since the All-Star Break, has has averaged 28.5 points on 49.5% shooting from the floor and 36.1% from three, while adding 7.3 rebounds and 8.4 assists per game. When we last saw him, he was at the forefront of the Mavs’ 30-point demolition of the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday Night, totaling thirty-nine points on 15-of-23 shooting (65.2%), with six rebounds, eight assists, and a pair of steals in just over twenty-eight minutes of action. He is currently listed as Questionable for tonight’s clash with Washington due to a sore right elbow suffered towards the end of that route at Golden State. Doncic and Dallas handled the Wizards rather comfortably when they met back on April 3rd in the Nation’s Capital, with the visitors cruising to a 109-87 victory, with the All-Star racking up twenty-six points, eight rebounds, and six assists, while shooting 12-of-24 from the field (50.0%). This one was all about the Mavericks’ Defense as they relegated the hosts to a miserable 40.7% shooting overall, including 5-of-25 from the perimeter (20.0%), with more turnovers (14) than assists (12) as the aforementioned Beal missed the affair due to injury.
“We really just rode him to the win. It was a very difficult game… Detroit’s a hard-playing team. They kept getting to the rim. He’s been our iron man all year… I keep talking to him about getting him a game off at some point. Tonight wasn’t going to be the night, because he was back home in Michigan.”Rick Carlisle on the performance of Tim Hardaway Jr. who posted a career-high 42 points in Thursday Night’s 115-105 win at the Pistons, which came without Luka Doncic, Dorian Finney-Smith, and Kristaps Porzingis.
When we last saw the Mavericks, they proved to still possess the requisite firepower to hold off the lowly Detroit Pistons in a 115-105 affair from Little Caesar’s Arena on Thursday Night. With Doncic out nursing that ailing elbow and the aforementioned Finney-Smith doing the same with his lower leg, Dallas had to fight to survive this one, but fortunately for them the Supporting Cast was ready and willing to make an impact, particularly (veteran Guard) Tim Hardaway Jr. (16.0 PTS, 43.4% FG, 38.1% 3FG, 3.3 REB, 1.7 AST, 14.6 PER). The one-time Michigan Wolverine relished the opportunity to return to the state of Michigan, totaling a career-high FORTY-TWO points on 13-of-23 shooting from the field (56.5%), including 6-of-10 from beyond the arc (60.0%), and a perfect 10-of-10 from the free-throw line (100.0%). At one point he scored seventeen consecutive points in the Fourth Quarter to put the Mavs up 109-105, as he was fouled on successive three-point attempts, making all six singles. And it’s a good thing he did, for the visitors managed to pull away despite shooting just 9-of-24 from the floor as a team (37.5%), though they certainly made the most of their time at the charity stripe, knocking down all ten of their free-throws in the period. Fellow Michigan alum Trey Burke (6.9 PTS, 44.2% FG, 37.1% 3FG, 0.9 REB, 1.4 AST, 0.7 STL, 13.5 PER) added fifteen points on 5-of-8 shooting (62.5%) off the bench, while Porzingis authored eleven points before departing midway through the Second Half due to knee soreness. Though the hosts continued to attack the rim, at the end of the day it was the work that Dallas did from the perimeter (13-of-30 3FG) where they were Plus-9 and their defensive pressure in harassing Detroit into eighteen turnovers. Brunson totaled thirteen points on the night, though only shot 5-of-15 from the field (33.3%), but did contribute in other ways with six rebounds and four assists. These teams met roughly a week beforehand, with the Mavericks once again winning by a ten-point margin, 127-117. Doncic nearly amassed a Triple-Double that night with thirty points, ten rebounds, and nine assists, while the tandem of Brunson and Hardaway accounted for thirty-five points off the bench. If Dallas is to cement there place outside of the Play-In Tournament, the rest of their schedule certainly shapes up for it, with four of their next five at home and eight of their final ten opponents sporting losing records.