The Dallas Mavericks are not good.
They sit at 22-46, meaning that even if they won their final 14 games of the season, they’d still finish ten games under .500.
For a Raptors team that’s playing the best basketball in team history, in the midst of the best season in team history, with the best two players in team history at the peak of their powers, this game is one that you’d hope the team is able to sleepwalk through; Friday night at home, against an NBA also-ran.
But even though they’re currently a sad-sack, the Mavericks are more than that. They’re what we hope Toronto is, come 2025.
In 2011, Dallas broke through and won a championship. They’re one of the few teams to do that with only one true star, in Dirk Nowitzki. They assembled a remarkable supporting cast of past-their-prime stars to help Dirk out, including Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion and Jason Terry. On their way they slayed a LaMarcus Aldridge-Brandon Roy Blazers team; swept Kobe’s Lakers (the two-time defending champions); and hammered the upstart Durant-Westbrook-Harden Thunder, before ultimately besting the first edition of the LeBron-era Heat in the Finals.
That’s quite a resume. Let’s hope that seven years from now we can reel off something so impressive about the 2017-18 Raptors.
An aging Dirk is still there but with Harrison Barnes and Dennis Smith Jr. at the forefront, the Mavericks have moved on to a new era, which has proved painful in the short-term.
Here are all the details you need for tonight’s game.
Where to Watch
TSN4 at 7:30pm EST
Toronto - Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Malcolm Miller, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas
Dallas - Dennis Smith Jr., Yogi Ferrell, Dorian Finney-Smith, Harrison Barnes, Dirk Nowitzki
Toronto - Norman Powell (out with ankle sprain)
Dallas - Wesley Matthew (out), Salah Mejri (day-to-day), Seth Curry (out)
Defend the Line
Dallas still has an elite head coach in Rick Carlisle, and he’s fully embracing the ‘new’ NBA style. The Mavericks rank fifth in the league in three point attempts per game — they like to get their shots off. Toronto does an excellent job of limiting opponent three pointers (both attempts and percentage) but it will be key to remain vigilant tonight.
The usual suspect to watch here is, of course, Dirk Nowitzki, who is still getting up 4.3 three-point attempts per game. But there’s also the troika of Ferrell, J.J. Barea, and Dennis Smith in the backcourt, and — gasp — Toronto has to worry about Doug McDermott, who still lurks.
Get on the Glass
Dallas is one of the worst rebounding teams in the NBA, currently ranking dead last in offensive rebounds per game and 27th in total rebounds. They’re also the worst team in the NBA in rebound percentage (47.5%). Toronto ranks 8th in offensive rebound percentage (23.4%) and 10th in overall rebound percentage. The Raptors will have second chances if they want them and should be able to limit multiple opportunities from the Mavs.
We bring this up because, as you’ll recall, the Raptors somehow lost to the Mavericks in Dallas back in December, and one of the reasons for that was they just couldn’t seem to grab the defensive board. We’ll see if anything changes tonight.
Just Show Up
After a weird almost-loss on the road against the Pacers last night, this Raptors team is starting to look a little bit mentally fatigued, which is completely normal for this final stretch in the schedule. The Mavericks have won three of their past four games, though their best win in that stretch was against an injury-decimated Nuggets team.
This should be an easy win for Toronto, who have the NBA’s best home record at 28-5, but when you’re a playing a team with nothing to lose, you better show up ready. There’s real trap game potential here, at least on paper. Even good teams have a stinker every once in a while.
Is this version of the Raptors stinker-proof? Maybe.
What a world.