The Dallas Mavericks (6-6) are treading water with a short-handed roster, and find themselves trying to right the ship at the start of a three game road trip. After losing yesterday at home to the Chicago Bulls, their second loss to them this season, the Mavericks face the Toronto Raptors (4-8) in their temporary home in Tampa Bay.
The Raptors have had a slow start to the season, but just won their last two in back-to-back games with the Charlotte Hornets. They’re built around the core trio of Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, and Pascal Siakam. Though notoriously a top tier defense, they’ve yet to find their footing with a Defensive Rating of 111.0 (Ranked 20th in the league).
These teams haven’t faced since their epic showdown December 22 last season, when a Luka-less Mavericks squad coughed up a 30-point lead and lost 110-107 on the road. Here’s what we’ll be looking for in tonight’s game.
Next NEXT man up
It’s no secret the Mavericks are having to reshuffle their rotations, as five of their primary rotation players have been out due Covid-19 testing and contact tracing. As of this writing Jalen Brunson’s status is the only of those five that has improved, listed as “Questionable” for yesterday’s game. It’s believed Brunson’s return will be soon, possibly even tonight against the Raptors.
Up to this point the Mavericks were sorely missing the defensive prowess of several players, but with the recent addition of Tim Hardaway Jr. (groin) to the injury report the Mavericks are also without one of their best shooters.
This has placed more responsibility on Luka Doncic, and on Kristaps Porzingis who is doing his best in a return from injury. It has also thrust many fringe and end of bench players in to meaningful minutes and tough matchups.
This was always a known unknown about this NBA season. Perhaps navigating these challenges early will pay dividends, from a pure basketball standpoint. It would be vital to see Brunson and Hardaway return tonight, to bring some normalcy to the rotations. Speaking of…
Kristaps Porzingis made his season debut last week and has appeared in three games. He is slowly working out the kinks and rounding into form, averaging 17 points, 8.7 rebounds, two blocks.
But his outside shot still hasn’t been found. He connected on 4-of-9 from three in the debut against the Charlotte Hornets, but in the two games since has been a frigid 2-of-14. Slow starts have been part of the process for Porzingis in Dallas — in the first 25 games last season he shot 32-percent from three — so his form returning requires patience.
As of this writing it hasn’t been announced whether Porzingis will appear in tonight’s game. His minutes have slowly grown over his three games, playing 33 minutes yesterday against the Bulls, but it wouldn’t surprising if he was held out on the second game of a back-to-back.
Luka magic, Luka workload
When you see it every single game it can be easy to take what Luka Doncic is doing for granted. Since his 12-point performance in a loss to the Charlotte Hornets, the game where he infamously took the AAC floor postgame to work on shooting, he has been on an absolute tear.
Posting averages of 31 points, 12.7 rebounds, 11 assists in those seven games — while also grabbing nine steals and shooting 37-percent from three — Doncic has picked quite the time to be a legitimate MVP with the Mavericks roster reeling. An offense so focused and reliant on one player’s creation doesn’t always find success, and it will be important that as the Mavericks eventually (hopefully) restore their roster that some of the workload shift off Doncic. Nevertheless in the short-term the Mavericks will look to Doncic to carry them into battle.
How to watch
Tip off is set for 6:30 P.M. CT, and can be watched on FSSW or NBA LeaguePass.