Don’t look now but the Dallas Mavericks are sitting quietly in the 8th seed in the Western Conference at 11-10. Following Sunday night’s 114-110 victory over the top seeded Los Angeles Clippers, the Mavs look to carry their new-found confidence against another playoff contender tonight as they host the Portland Trail Blazers. Here are three things to watch in tonight’s matchup.
The home field advantage
After a rough start this season, the Dallas Mavericks have now won seven straight at home. For the first time in a long time, the American Airlines Center has a special energy about it. The fans are more than just “Rowdy , Loud and Proud”; they are committed to the team. From chanting “Jimmy Butler!” against the Timberwolves to getting inside opposing players heads, the MFFL’s have really come to life at the AAC.
Dallas obviously feeds off of the home crowd as they have only won two road games against Chicago and Houston. The team will have to do better if they want to stay in contention for the playoffs come April, but it feels great knowing the edge we have at home.
Blood, sweat, and tooth
Dennis Smith Jr. had a great all-around game against the Clippers finishing with nine points, three rebounds, five assists, two steals and two blocks. DSJ came up clutch while guarding Tobias Harris for the game winning block and rebound. In a sophomore season that has seen its ups and downs, it was really special to see DSJ take on the challenge of doing whatever he could to get a win.
One of the more impressive moments came when fighting for a loose ball against Patrick Beverly and got his front tooth knocked out, besides the obvious physical grit that it took to get your smile rearranged and come back in to finish the game. What it really did was personify his mental toughness and commitment to his team. He didn’t lose his cool and get a technical, or try to respond and force bad shots. Instead he kept his focus, went to work, and took a big step toward becoming a leader for this young team.
The return of the Chosen One
Luka Doncic missed his first career game on Sunday against the Clippers resting from a hip strain. Before that, he arguably had his worst game of the season against the Lakers, shooting just 2 for 13. No doubt Luka is looking forward to bounce back in a big way tonight against the Portland, if he’s cleared to play.
At times it feels a little unfair that we have come to expect so much from a 19-year-old rookie but then again he is no ordinary rookie. After recently being named the Western Conference Rookie of the Month, Luka continues to justify the draft night trade that the Mavs made to the Wonder Boy.
Tonight, he will face off against two exceptional guards in C.J. McCollum and Damien Lillard. He might also be bothered by former Maverick lengthy wing Al-Farouq Aminu. It should be a fun night as Luka looks to put his stamp on another game and for another win.
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