The Dallas Mavericks are the NBA's metronome. They haven't finished under .500 since Dirk Nowitzki's rookie season, compiling three 40+, nine 50+ and three 60+ win seasons over the past fifteen years. This year, they're once again on track to win 45-50 games and seem destined for an early playoff exit.
Dallas was widely expected to fall off both this year and last, but have managed to hang on. A cursory examination of their team statistics so far this season doesn't reveal much of significance. They rank average or slightly below average in the majority of key team statistics, painting a picture of a team that is pretty OK at everything, but not really exceptional in any one area. This is born out in their -0.3 point differential, the closest any NBA team is to the break-even mark. This a decent team in a tough division that has played a fairly easy schedule so far. Couple this with the struggles of the Clippers, Rockets and Grizzlies and what you have is the current 4th seed in the NBA's Western Conference.
Here are your keys to the game.
Don't You Forget About Three
Dallas is a poor three point shooting team, hitting on only 32.5% of their attempts from deep. The hobbled Wes Matthews and Chandler Parsons certainly have something to do with that struggle, as both are shooting roughly 33% from deep this year, well below their career marks. Parsons played his first 30 minute game of the season in the Mavericks last game, a win over the Grizzlies. If he and Matthews start to get it going, this Dallas team could begin to get its sea legs.
Remember how good they were before the ill-fated Rondo trade last season? That team is still there, somewhere. The Raptors, who allow opponents to shoot 36.6% from deep, 25th in the NBA, would seem to be a prime target for their resurgence. Toronto will need to ensure it gets out to the perimeter if it wants to keep the Mavericks sharpshooters dormant.
Take it to the Rack, Don't Come Back
Dallas does have one area in which it really struggles, and that's protecting the rim. Zaza Pachulia and Dirk Nowitzki are a solid tandem on offense, and Pachulia rebounds well, but neither is a shot-blocker with any kind of verticality. There is a reason that this team wanted DeAndre Jordan and why it's now taking a chance on a dude like JaVale McGee. They need that shot blocking element, and they haven't found it yet.
The thing is, you need to get right to the rim if you can. Opponents shoot 61.5% in the restricted area against Dallas, which is the fifth best mark in the NBA. However, they only shoot 36% on other shots in the paint, the third worst mark in the league, and certainly the biggest disparity that any team sports in those two areas. Dallas also allows those attempts at the rim at the third stingiest rate in the league, so it's easier said than done. This is yet another game where Toronto could really use Jonas Valanciunas.
Deron Williams has enjoyed a rejuvenation of his career in Dallas, but he's nowhere near the player he once was. Kyle Lowry has had a rough week, struggling mightily against the Hornets and being ejected from Sunday's loss against the Kings. DeMar DeRozan has been excellent lately, but Toronto needs both pieces of its back court playing well at the same time. The Lowry-Williams match-up should be one that favours Toronto and I'd look for the East's best point man to get things back rolling against the Mavs. Expect him to be aggressive early.