Between Nerlens Noel’s suspension for drug use, and fans more or less cheering for losses to improve lottery standings, this may be one of the oddest endings to a season Dallas has had in a long time. After last night’s improbable (and somewhat unwanted) win over the Portland Trailblazers, the Mavericks find themselves with the fifth best odds in this summer’s NBA Draft Lottery. Maverick owner, Mark Cuban, admitted earlier in the season that the team’s best option is to tank for better odds in the draft. Well, the tanking efforts will be in full effect tonight as the Dallas Mavericks (24-54) take on the Orlando Magic (23-54) at the Amway Center in Orlando, FL. While no player is ever going to step foot on the court with the intention to lose, the Mavericks may be positioning themselves to blow tonight’s game before it even starts. Dennis Smith Jr., who led the Mavericks in scoring, rebounding and assists last night, will be sitting out, according to head coach Rick Carlisle. Although no other player updates have been officially announced yet, this second night of a back-to-back should garner rest for others as well.
Tonight’s opponent, the Orlando Magic, are working their way up the lottery “standings” as well, but they also pulled off an unlikely win last night. Behind third-year wing, Mario Hezonja, the Magic won their home game against the struggling New York Knicks. Orlando currently holds the fourth best odds in the lottery, just one spot ahead of the Mavericks. Although the team has added nice pieces over the years like Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic, Jonathan Simmons and even Evan Fournier, they seem to be stuck at the bottom of the Eastern Conference year after year. With a likely top-five pick on the way this summer, the team hopes to see improvement sooner rather than later.
Tonight may not be the prettiest basketball to watch, but one thing Maverick fans can get excited about is being able to watch Aaron Gordon. Back in February, Sean Deveney of Sporting News, mentioned the Mavericks as one of a few potential suitors for Gordon this summer when he enters restricted free agency. The third-year power forward is averaging 18 PPG, 8.3 RPG and 2.4 APG and is one of the few bright spots for the Magic. While free agency may be (at least) third on the Maverick to-do list behind finishing the season and drafting well, it would be worth taking note on Gordon’s performance tonight.
While Dallas has lost eight of their last ten games, Orlando is in a similar slump, losing 11 of their last 14. In their meeting earlier this season, Dallas pulled away from the Magic in the second half and came away with a home win: 114-99. Smith Jr. led the way that night with 20 points, six rebounds and three assists; clearly the gravity of his absence will be felt tonight. Besides the rookie’s absence, the other big differences between tonight’s matchup and January’s matchup are that this game will come on a second night of a back-to-back for both teams, and the game will be played in Orlando. If Dallas really wants to bring a win back home with them, it will take a real team effort to make up for the absence of their starting point guard.
For those that are more interested in the draft than the win, pay close attention here. If Dallas loses to Orlando tonight, they will move ahead of the Orlando Magic in the lottery and be in sole possession of the fourth best odds. If the Mavericks win, they will remain in possession of the fifth best odds in the lottery, but after the Sacramento Kings’ (25-54) loss to the Phoenix Suns (20-59) last night, they will be tied for that spot.
Tonight’s game can be viewed locally on Fox Sports Southwest at 6 p.m. CT.
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