Nets wrap up four-game Western Conference tilt against Mavericks

Photo courtesy YES Network

Time: 8:30 p.m. EST

Location: American Airlines Arena

Watch: YES Network, FOX Sports GO

Listen: WFAN 101.9, 660 AM

Photo courtesy YES Network

The Nov. 27 loss to the Houston Rockets marked the 20th game of the season for the 7-13 Nets. This was a game where the Nets started five completely different players to the five that suited up to start in the Nets’ season opener just two months ago. Injuries have been cruel, and the mantra for the Nets has been ‘next man up,’ but this can still be hard when the team is depleted of its top-tier talent.

The Brooklyn Nets, to their credit, fought out a hard loss to the West-leading Houston team, and now they have what could be seen as a winnable game against the 5-16 Dallas Mavericks. The Mavericks have been playing slightly better as of late, going 4-6 in their last 10 games, which included an overtime loss to the Boston Celtics who were in the midst of a 15-game winning streak.

As of now, both Allen Crabbe and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson are listed as doubtful to play against Dallas, but DeMarre Carroll is expected to return. This means that Caris LeVert may shift back into a bench role as the Nets go bigger to start against a Dallas starting five that will probably feature Harrison Barnes, Dirk Nowitzki and Maxi Kleber.

Again, the Nets will have to find scoring from players that have not had to be relied upon as much offensively to start the season. In the Nets’ last two games, Carroll and Isaiah Whitehead have led the team in scoring. They have also had support from Joey ‘Buckets’ Harris who is averaging 3.25 three-pointers per game over the past four games, shooting 13-26 from distance, good for a scorching 50 percent.

This game will be the last of a four-game stretch against Western Conference teams before the Nets have five of their next six games at Barclays Center.

Three things to watch

1. The point guard duel

Spencer Dinwiddie has performed remarkably during the absence of Jeremy Lin, and more importantly that of D’Angelo Russell, taking over the starting point guard role for the Nets. Yet, Whitehead was the one that stole the show on Monday, dropping the team-leading 24 points. How much opportunity Whitehead is afforded going forward may depend on team match-ups, but he did his case no harm with his most recent performance.

The Dallas Mavericks will likely start rookie point guard sensation Dennis Smith Jr., but he has struggled slightly with his shot as of late, shooting 38 percent over the last month. Backup J.J. Barea has actually outscored Smith Jr. marginally over the past six games, despite averaging six fewer minutes on the court.

Dinwiddie and Whitehead have a height advantage over the six-foot Barea, and for both him and Smith Jr., the Nets defense will do well to chase them off the three-point line. This should encourage Brooklyn’s defense to rotate effectively to meet Dallas aggressively at the rim, where both Dallas backcourt members have shown an adept ability to finish. 

2. Three-point attempts  

Chasing the Maverick shooters off the three-point line is crucial, as somewhat surprisingly the Dallas Mavericks rank third in the league in three-point attempts. They average 33.2 per game, slightly below the second-ranked Nets who take 33.7 per game. While we may not see an NBA record in attempts like what we saw against the Rockets, prepare for a similar up-tempo game with a lot of points deriving from beyond the arc. 

3. Dirk Nowitzki

It will serve the Nets well to not forget about the 39-year-old future Hall of Famer in their scouting report. After starting the season sluggishly by his lofty standards, Dirk Nowitzki has registered double figures in seven of his past nine games. The Nets have detailed struggles against big men who can shoot this season, and Nowitzki is a stretch four with a three-point championship trophy prominently displayed somewhere in his Dallas mansion, right next to his 2011 finals MVP and 2007 regular season MVP awards.

Nowitzki has lost a step defensively given his age, but still grabs 24.8 percent of all defensive rebounds available while he is on the court, a mark that would be his third best in his career if the season ended today. If the Nets can stop Nowitzki from getting the home crowd on its feet, they may be able to head back home to Brooklyn with a win.