9:30 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Mavericks -6, Over/Under: 238.5
A pair of young Playoff Hopefuls looking to rebound from a bad loss meet tonight in Big D, as the Dallas Mavericks play host to the New Orleans Pelicans from American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. With roughly five weeks left in the Regular Season, time is running out for the Pelicans (26-35, 12th in Western Conference) to book a trip to the Playoffs, which is something that the franchise has managed to achieve twice in the last eight years. Coming into tonight’s second leg of a back-to-back, New Orleans sits in Twelfth in the West, vying for the Eighth and Final Seed with four other teams, as the Memphis Grizzlies ling to a four-game lead in the Standings. However, even if Alvin gentry’s charges don’t extend their season into May, it’s hard to this team not having anything other than a bright future. As far as extreme makeovers go, this club underwent one of the most thorough in the Offseason, parting ways with All-Star Forward, Anthony Davis, in a deal that netted them a treasure trove of young talent, including Brandon Ingram (24.6 PTS, 47.1% FG, 39.3% 3FG, 6.2 REB, 4.3 AST, 1.0 STL, 19.9 PER), Lonzo Ball (12.0 PTS, 40.6% FG, 37.1% 3FG, 6.1 REB, 7.0 AST, 1.4 STL, 13.4 PER), and Josh Hart (10.3 PTS, 42.4% FG, 35.0% 3FG, 6.9 REB, 2.2 AST, 1.0 STL, 12.0 PER), along with a number of future Draft Picks from the Los Angeles Lakers. Sharpshooting veteran, J.J. Redick (14.9 PTS, 45.0% FG, 45.2% 3FG, 2.6 REB, 2.0 AST, 15.2 PER), and veteran Forward, Derrick Favors (9.3 PTS, 61.9% FG, 10.0 REB, 1.7 AST, 1.0 BLK, 19.2 PER), were also added in Free Agency, all the while enjoying the luxury of the No. One Pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, which in this case was academic, as Duke Phenom, Zion Williamson (24.2 PTS, 58.8% FG, 41.7% 3FG, 6.9 REB, 2.2 AST, 25.6 PER), was the easiest of choices for a team looking to rebuild around a new superstar. With that said, the 2019-2020 term got off to a rocky start, which was to be expected with so many new faces and Williamson undergoing knee surgery shortly before the season began, forcing him to miss the first forty-four contests. As a result, Gentry’s troops got off tot a truly abysmal start, winning just six of their first twenty-eight games, placing them in a hole that they’re still trying to climb their way out of. So what’s changed, you ask? Well, it’s probably an oversimplification of things, but in one word, Zion. Granted, the Pelicans did manage to start turning things around before the Rookie Forward returned to the court, going on an 11-5 run before he made his debut back on January 22nd, but since that point they’re undeniably a different group on the court, flying up and down the hardwood with an energy that they had been lacking for nearly half of the campaign. In the sixteen games since his return, New Orleans has gone 9-8, averaging 120.5 Points on a healthy 48.7% shooting from the field, including 38.2% from beyond the arc, while taking regular residence at the Charity Stripe, where they’ve knocked down 18.6-of-25.8 Free-Throws (72.0%). Furthermore, they’ve dished out 30.6 Assists and outrebounded their opponents by 6.1 Boards. Simply put, this is the kind of team that they were supposed to be all along, and if not for that swath of injuries they’d likely be sitting a far more advantageous position in the Standings. Yes, Zion has been nothing short of impressive, averaging 24.2 Points on 58.8% shooting from the field, including 41.7% from downtown, along with 6.9 Rebounds and 2.2 Assists in just 29.1 Minutes, but everyone else has fallen into the places that we expected them to. Ingram, who enjoyed his first All-Star Selection earlier this Winter, has improved dramatically, finally tapping into that wealth of potential that was so evident when he was drafted No. 2 Overall back in 2016, while Ball, without the pressures of playing in his hometown of Los Angeles, has distributed the ball with ease, pushing Gentry’s attack in Transition. Redick has spaced the floor beautifully with his shooting, while one of the only holdovers from last year’s unit, Jrue Holiday (19.2 PTS, 44.7% FG, 35.3% 3FG, 4.8 REB, 6.9 AST, 1.7 STL, 17.1 PER), has returned healthy to add experience, shooting, and defense to the Backcourt. Now take everything we just stated into account nd you’ll understand why last night’s 134-139 defeat at home to the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves was so disappointing, and perhaps damaging, to a young team that is trying to push it’s way into the Playoffs. Keep in mind that the visitors were once again without star Center, Karl Anthony-Towns, and they still managed to put up 139 Points on a blistering 55.7% shooting from the floor, including 14-of-34 from beyond the arc (41.2%), and Thirty-One Assists. The hosts shot the ball well too, netting 52.0% of their attempts from the field, assisting on a whopping thirty-seven of their Fifty-Two Field Goals, but they also committed Fifteen Turnovers, and came up woefully short at the Charity Stripe, knocking down just 16-of-27 Free-Throws (59.3%), which is absolutely detrimental in an affair decided by such a small margin. Six different Pelicans scored in double-figures, with Williamson and Holiday combining for Fifty-Two Points, Eighteen Rebounds, and Fifteen Assists, but also contributed mightily to their Free-Throw Shooting woes (10-of-18 FTA). The home side led by as many as twelve in the early in the Second Half, but their inability to slow down Minnesota from the perimeter was their downfall, as the visiting side quickly turned the tables with a 14-0 run of their own. Now, with each game becoming more and more important to their postseason dreams, New Orleans will seek their first victory over Dallas, who has handed three defeats already this term, though they all occurred before Williamson’s return to the hardwood.
Meanwhile, it’s been four years since the Mavericks (37-25, 7th in Western Conference) have qualified for the Playoffs, and barring a major calamity it appears that their wait will be over. With roughly five weeks left in the Regular Season, Dallas is firmly entrenched in the Seventh Seed, 6.5 Games ahead of the Memphis Grizzlies in the Standings. However, there is plenty of time for them to climb the ladder in the Western Conference, for they trail the Oklahoma City Thunder by just a single game for Sixth and the Utah Jazz by two games for fifth. With that said, if they’re going to make a move then they’re likely only going to be able to do so by getting healthier which is a problem for them at the moment. You see, Rick Carlisle has one of the youngest teams in the league at his disposal, and the venerable Head Coach has been forced to dive deeper into his bag of tricks in order to coax the best out of his charges, though that bag is getting emptier as this stage of the season. Just over a month ago Dallas lost Starting Center, Dwight Powell (9.4 PTS, 63.8% FG, 25.6% 3FG, 5.7 REB, 1.5 AST, 16.0 PER), to a season-ending Achilles tear, while Backup Point Guard, Jalen Brunson (8.2 PTS, 46.6% FG, 35.8% 3FG, 2.4 REB, 3.3 AST, 15.0 PER), tore the labrum in his shoulder only a week ago. Add nagging back spams to sharpshooting Guard, Seth Curry (12.4 PTS, 49.3% FG, 44.8% 3FG, 2.4 REB, 2.0 AST, 16.0 PER), coupled with the absence of rangy big man, Willie Cauley-Stein (5.6 PTS, 67.6% FG, 4.6 REB, 22.8 PER), who has been out due to personal issues, and you have seriously depleted Rotation. After all, Cauley-Stein was acquired at the Trade Deadline in a deal with the Golden State Warriors to help fill the void left in Powell’s wake, with fellow Kentucky alum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (0.6 PTS, 25.0% FG, 2.3 REB, 3.4 PER), signed in mid-February to provide cover off the Bench. In the meantime, it will be up to the European core of their team, Kristaps Porzingis (19.2 PTS, 42.4% FG, 35.8% 3FG, 9.4 REB, 1.6 AST, 2.0 BLK, 19.7 PER), and Sophomore sensation, Luka Doncic (28.5 PTS, 46.1% FG, 31.5% 3FG, 9.3 REB, 8.8 AST, 1.0 STL, 27.9 PER), to carry them, with the continuing his major leap following his star turn as Rookie. The 2018-19 Rookie of the Year has not disappointed this season, raising his production across the board while fleshing out his all-around game; the Solvenian Guard has improved his scoring (28.5), rebounding (9.3), and assists (8.8), while improving his shooting overall (46.1%) and getting to the rim (57.6%), allowing him further opportunities from the Charity Stripe (9.0 FTA). When we last saw him and the Mavericks, they fell on the wrong side a spirited affair with the struggling Chicago Bulls, who earned what was just their second victory in twelve games in the 109-107 encounter. This one no doubt left Carlisle fuming, for his troops wasted a 10-Point Halftime Lead, as they were outscored 33-17 in the Third Quarter, a season-low. However, they still had an opportunity earn the victory, as Doncic threw up a desperation heave from the Scorer’s Table that fell just short of connecting. After missing Saturday Night’s drubbing of the Minnesota Timberwolves (111-91) with a bruised thumb, he finished with Twenty-Three Points, Five Rebounds, and Nine Assists, but struggled on 8-of-20 shooting (40.0%), particularly from beyond the arc where he netted only 1-of-8 attempts (12.5%). Tim Hardaway Jr. (15.5 PTS, 43.9% FG, 40.3% 3FG, 3.1 REB, 1.9 AST, 15.1 PER) led the team with Twenty-Six Points on 10-of-21 shooting (47.6%), as Porzingis and Curry sat out the second leg of a Back-to-Back. Perhaps a meeting with the Pelicans will help them turn the page from such a disappointing loss, for they’ve thus far swept the season series with New Orleans with frightening ease, outscoring them by 24.7 Points, including a Plus-16.3 advantage from downtown and a Plus-9.6 margin from the Free-Throw Line. For his part, Doncic has been stellar in this particular matchup, averaging 28.0 Points, 11.3 Rebounds, and 8.0 Assists, shooting 51.9% overall. With that said, all three of those meetings were played well before the aforementioned Williamson’s debut, with that latest affair contested on December 7th.