Dallas Mavericks look to rebound against struggling Lakers

Dallas Mavericks Luka Doncic Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images)
Dallas Mavericks Luka Doncic Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Dallas Mavericks desperately need a win at home against a reeling LeBron-less Los Angeles Lakers squad.

The Dallas Mavericks are in a bit of a slump. Dirk Nowitzki and his many basketball playing sons have now lost 10 of their last 13 games—slowly sliding out of the current playoff standings out west. Despite all of this, they are still only 2.5 games behind the current eight seed—and tonight’s opponent—the Los Angeles Lakers.

Like the Mavericks, the Lakers have had their struggles as well. The Lakers are the losers of 8 of their last 11. Something has to give between these two teams.

It feels silly writing this on a Monday in January but tonight’s game is almost a must-win for the Mavericks. The Lakers are without LeBron James and at the time I’m writing this article, forward Kyle Kuzma‘s game status is still up in the air.

The Western Conference is a murderers row of opponents. Fourteen of the fifteen teams (every one but the Suns) would almost assuredly make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. When a player like LeBron is out, you have to win those games. Simple as that.

The Mavs are 0-2 against Tinseltown this year. Fans might recall Luka Doncic leading us on an epic comeback in one of his first “I’m a superstar” moments before Wesley Matthews carelessly sent LeBron James to the line in the final seconds on a reach in foul.

Dallas Mavericks
Dallas Mavericks Luka Doncic Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Because the teams only play each other three times this season, the Lakers have already won the playoff tiebreaker—unfortunately for Dallas.

The team will need another big performance from Luka Doncic to win this one at home. It’s amazing the role and responsibility he’s taken on as just a teenager. If the Mavericks do end up making the playoffs this season, it will be thanks to Cool Hand Luka*.

(*An aside: the Mavs are trying to push this “The Matador” nickname on fans but I do not find people to be very excited by it. Personally, I prefer Cool Hand Luka or The Don to The Matador or Wonderboy. Let’s get this man a nickname as magical as his game is. Sorry for the digression.)

Anyway, another important key to victory for Dallas will be winning the Dennis Smith Jr. vs Lonzo Ball matchup. Fans and the media have been impatient with both players and some have even labeled them busts or mistakes. The truth is they’re just two 21-year-old kids who need time to learn how to play the most demanding position in basketball. Not everyone is Luka Doncic or Ben Simmons.

If Dennis Smith Jr. can outplay his fellow draft classmate, then the Mavericks will have a very strong chance of winning.

Pay close attention to how Carlisle chooses to handle his big man rotation in this game and in the games moving forward. Maxi Kleber has been undoubtedly the team’s best reserve big man but has often found himself watching from the sidelines with DeAndre Jordan, Dwight Powell, and of course Dirk Nowitzki all deserving of playing time as well. Some would even argue Kleber is our best big man period despite not putting up the flashy numbers of Jordan.

Carlisle needs to find consistent minutes for Dallas’ other German power forward because his defense and energy is invaluable to this team. I think this is done best by not just splitting his minutes with Dirk but by taking a couple of minutes each away from Jordan, Powell, and Harrison Barnes.

Speaking of Barnes, he needs to come out and score the basketball while also being willing and able to make the right pass at the right time. Barnes is posting career lows in assists per game and assist percentage. He too often is killing the flow of the offense when the ball is in his possession.

Barnes is one of the most important parts of this team. His defense and three-point shooting this season have been the best of his career—an awesome sign of development and fit moving forward. That being said if he continues displaying tunnel vision, it will be tough for the team to take the next step.

Finally, the Mavericks need to keep Brandon Ingram in check. Ingram has really struggled this year to the dismay of Lakers fans, but he is still extremely talented. Dorian Finney-Smith and Barnes will probably be matched up with him for the majority of the game. Keeping the third year playmaking-forward bottled up would likely secure Rick Carlisle‘s team a victory.

Next. Three New Years Resolutions for the Mavs

The game tips off at the American Airline Center in Dallas at 7:30 CST. For those of you with tickets to the game, be sure to show off how rowdy, proud, and loud you are and cheer the boys in blue on to victory. Most importantly, give Dirk the electric and loving response he deserves as often as you can. Go Mavs!