The Mavericks (24-18) will go toe-to-toe with the best team in the NBA’s eastern conference this Wednesday when they welcome the Boston Celtics (32-10) in the teams’ first matchup of the season at the American Airlines Center.
Boston jumped out to an early lead and handled the Houston Rockets Sunday evening, 116-107, at the Toyota Center before making the short trip north to Dallas.
Former Maverick Kristaps Porzingis, who is basking in something of a Porzingaissance this season, led all scorers with 32 points on 6-of-11 shooting from 3-point range, five rebounds and five blocked shots.
Guard Derrick White, who is also blooming this year in Boston, added 21 points and 12 boards in the win.
So The Celtics come into Dallas on the second night of a back-to-back set and on the heels of seven wins in their last 10 games. Meanwhile the Mavericks are in the middle of a roller coaster ride of a January, and now the schedule starts to get really diabolical for Dallas.
Beginning with their Jan 7 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves and going through the Feb 10 game at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder, opponents on the Mavericks’ schedule are a combined 122 games over .500.
After the Celtics, who currently hold the NBA’s best record, the Mavs have the fortune of facing the likes of Phoenix, Sacramento, Minnesota again, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, New York and OKC with very few pushovers sprinkled in between.
If the Mavericks are still occupying a top-6 playoff position at the end this stretch, it will have been the most impressive run of the season.
Updates on injury
The Mavs have been rounding into form on the injury front, and the off-days provided by the postponement of Friday’s game at Golden State following the tragic death of Warrior’s assistant coach Dejan Milojevic have given a bruised-and-battered lineup some much-needed reprieve before the Mavs continue the early 2024 gauntlet.
Only Dante Exum, who has missed the last eight games with a plantar fascia sprain, and Seth Curry, who sprained an ankle Sunday in practice according to the Dallas Morning News, are still listed on the injury report for the Mavs.
Exum has been upgraded from “out” to “doubtful” for the first time in that stretch ahead of the Boston game, which points to progress being made on the mend. He reportedly put in a full practice Sunday with no limits on contact.
For the Celtics, both defensive-minded guard Jrue Holliday (elbow) and big man Al Horford (loan management) sat out of Sunday’s game at Houston, and their status is up in the air for Monday’s game in Dallas. It also remains to be seen if Boston decides to play the load management with any of their key pieces on the second night of their back-to-back.
Big green machine
They have created a monster on offense in Boston. The Celtics lead the NBA in 3-pointers made this year, with 679, or 16.17 per game going into Sunday’s game. The Mavs are second in made 3-pointers with 636 on the year, or 15.14 per game.
The Celtics are also fourth in scoring (120.4 points per game) and third in offensive rating (120.3), making them just a slightly better version of the Mavs (7th in scoring, 8th in offensive rating) on offense.
The big difference between the two teams so far this season is on the defensive end. While the Celtics are second in the league in defensive rating at 110.6, Dallas is fighting valiantly to maintain a spot in the top 20, currently sitting at 18th at 116.5.
Combat fire with fire
The Denver Nuggets handed Boston its first home loss of the year last week with twin brilliant performances from Jamal Murray (35 points, eight rebounds) and Nicola Jokic (34 points, 12 rebounds, nine assists). Their top playmakers and shotmakers were just a little better than Jayson Tatum, Brown, Porzingis and Co. on that given night.
Few NBA teams are built to replicate that blueprint — but on their best nights, the Mavericks are one of those teams. Dallas is certainly equipped with two scorers capable of combining for 70 or 80 points, and the Mavs’ third scoring option, Tim Hardaway Jr., is having one of the best years of his career. He’s scoring 18.1 points per game and is in serious contention for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award.
Combine the firepower along the perimeter with the pick-and-roll threat and budding defensive presence of Dereck Lively II, and the Mavs have the personnel to give the Celtics everything they can handle.
The Mavericks have also recently been able to summon top-tier form against top-tier opponents. If they don’t on Monday, they run the risk of getting laughed out of their own gym by the best team in the league.