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Mavericks, led by Luka Doncic, arrive in Brooklyn as Nets try to stop the bleeding

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San Antonio Spurs v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The Nets do not look good right now!! Granted, the loss to the Heat came on the second half of a back-to-back which is almost always a schedule loss whether we want to admit it or not, but it was poor timing for that matchup anyway. And like the Nets, the Heat were playing their third game in four days. No excuses.

The Nets have dropped three straight now heading into a crucial stretch of games as they try to hang onto that six seed for dear life. They’ll play the Mavericks, Cavaliers, Hawks, and Pistons before they head off on a West Coast trip.

The Mavericks are 27-35 in the West, so they aren’t horrid but they also are not particularly good. They look a little different from the last time we saw them since making a trade you all might have heard about. They won’t be a pushover, and the Nets are going to need to get some mojo back to beat them. Let’s get into it.

Where To Follow The Game

YES, NBA TV, and WFAN at 7:30 pm, ET. It’s hilarious how excited I get by the idea of the Nets playing on National Television. They’ll also be on ESPN for the upcoming Thunder game. Gotta get up for those games and get out of this funk.

Injuries

Treveon Graham is doubtful (back soreness).

J.J. Barea (leg) and Kristaps Porzingis (knee) are out for the season but it seems like the Unicorn is with the Mavericks.

It will be interesting if someone asks if, as Marc Stein, has written that the Nets were at the top of his list of preferred destinations. Or why he told Knick fans to “stay woke.”

The Game

Those of you who have followed these game previews all season (thanks, by the way) know about my love of Luka Doncic. I’d make him the Player To Watch, but I didn’t feel like waiting to talk about him. The Phenom is averaging 21 points, 5.6 assists, 7.2 rebounds, and 1 steal while shooting 43/34/72, spending most of this season as a teenager. We talk a lot about rookie walls and fatigue, seeing it firsthand with guys like Rodions Kurucs, but Doncic in his last 12 is putting up 25 points, 7 assists, and 8.9 rebounds. He played essentially a full NBA length season in Europe last year so it isn’t surprising he was ready for the marathon of a year of games. He’s going to be disruptive on offense and an issue for the Nets.

Since February 21st, the Nets have scored just 105.5 points per game, the third lowest mark in the league in that time span. The offense has looked stagnant and frustrated as teams now have better defensive schemes to run out against Kennys offense. Mercifully, one of the two teams that have scored less points per game during that same time span has been Dallas, who’s been putting up a similarly abysmal 103.2 mark. Who’s the only team ranked worse than those two, you ask? The NBA’s deepest and best and most talented young team that’s definitely a Finals Contender and totally not a Sinking Ship, the Boston Celtics.

It makes sense the Nets would take some time to adjust to the returns of guys like Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, as well as Allen Crabbe but we’re sort of running out of time here as the season winds down and other teams aren’t having these issues. It’s funny to even call it an issue, since the Nets are healthy for the first time in forever, but the adjustment is still related to the injuries themselves. A combination of that and other teams game-planning well for the Nets has resulted in these recent stretch of lackluster performances.

A Refresher on Guys Who Are No Longer On The Mavericks: Wesley Matthews, DeAndre Jordan, Harrison Barnes, Dennis Smith Jr.

A Refresher on Guys Who Are Now Currently On The Mavericks: Kristaps Porzingis (injured), Courtney Lee, Tim Hardaway Jr., Justin Jackson, Trey Burke.

Dallas had itself a facelift when it made the Porzingis trade and less notably the Harrison Barnes trade, so we’ll see a different squad than we did last time. They’ve been using a starting five of Luka, Jalen Brunson, Hardaway, Dirk Nowitzki, and Dwight Powell. It has not worked very well. The Mavericks are sort of just treading water until they can add Kristaps Porzingis into the mix next season ... assuming he doesn’t prefer another locale. (Yeah, yeah, we know he’s a restricted free agent, but ya never know.)

For now, they’re just kind of letting Luka do his thing with a lackluster cast around him. Hardaway Jr. might be a nice piece for them next season potentially as a scoring sixth man, but at this point it seems clear that a bench role is where he’s best suited. He’s scoring 16 points on 41/32/72 shooting since moving to Dallas.

This is a good opportunity for a Spencer Dinwiddie breakout, return-to-form game, or at least it has rhe potential to be. Dallas, outside of Luka, plays a lot of regular to small sized guards like Brunson and Trey Burke, the kind of guards Spencer feasts on. Add that to a lack of rim protection and a generally lackluster defense and Spencer could have a field day. D’Angelo could too I guess, but Spencer needs it more. If he gets hot it could be a boon for the rejuvenation of this team.

Playoff Picture

Busy night in the East. With Detroit beating Toronto in overtime, and both the Magic and Hornet losing, the bottom of the East is scrambled. The Pistons have taken over the six seed from the Nets, who drop into seventh, a half-game back. The Magic are now in eighth, two games back of Brooklyn. The Hornets are percentage points behind Orlando in ninth.

The Nets have 17 games left to play.

Player To Watch

Everyone (me) made a big deal about how it was cool and poetic that Luka was going to be taking the torch from Dirk in Dallas, but it’s somehow even better that now Kristaps is there too because he’s like, actually a young Dirk. If Kris can stay healthy he has the potential to be that impact stretch big who can do a little of everything that Dirk did in Dallas for all those years. This is all to say that Dirk is great and was great and will always be one of the best big men to ever have played basketball and we should all appreciate him. He can’t do too much on the court anymore, but his peak was one of the best we’ve seen. From 2002 to 2011, Dirk averaged 24.5 points and 8.8 rebounds with 48/38/88 shooting splits. He was years ahead of his time, stretching the floor for the Mavericks before big men shooting was ever considered to be a necessary thing for a basketball team to have. He’s a former MVP, Finals MVP, a revolutionary player, and a legend. He will be missed.

From The Vault

Enjoy.

For a different perspective, head on over to Mavs Moneyball, our sister site on SB Nation.