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3 things to watch for as the Mavs host the Celtics

Author’s Note: This preview was written before the Boston Celtics game against the Atlanta Hawks on Friday.

How the mighty have fallen. The Celtics come to town riding a three-game losing streak. Those losses—to the Utah Jazz, Charlotte Hornets, and New York Knicks, respectively—have dropped Boston’s record to a piddling 9-9. If they weren’t in the Eastern Conference, they wouldn’t be in the playoff picture. This is a team that took the LeBron JamesCleveland Cavaliers to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals last season. Lol.

Even with the team’s struggles, Boston still has the talent to mop the floor with their opponent any given night. Dallas will have to play to its full potential if it hopes to even its own record at 9-9. Here are some things to watch for tonight:

Who will erupt for the Celtics?

Mavs fans know the drill by now. An opposing player is going to go off every night. That’s just how the season is rolling. Last game, it was Allen Crabbe, who poured in 27 points. The odds on favorite to shred the Dallas Mavericks this time around has to be Kyrie Irving. This season, the Thanksgiving hater, is averaging 22.4 points with an effective field goal percentage of .556. In his 12 career games against Dallas, Irving is averaging 24.6 points. That’s pretty good.

What’s more, with injuries to Dennis Smith Jr. and Wesley Matthews (at the time of this writing, the availability of either is unknown) may allow Irving to run unchecked for much of the game. That’s not great but if he’s the only one getting buckets for Boston then Dallas stands a chance.

Can Doe Doe bounce back?

Wednesday night’s game against the Brooklyn Nets was by far the worst of the season for Dorian Finney-Smith. He scored just five points, going 1-9 from the field. Defensively, he also looked out of place. Getting beat by his man and scrambling to rotate all night. He did grab four rebounds and dished an assist, but it was a night to forget.

Finney-Smith has played well beyond expectations this season. He’s started eight games and is seeing significant minutes with the starters when he comes of the bench in a sixth man role. His defense and ability to knock down open looks are invaluable to the Mavs success. With so many wings on the Celtics, Finney-Smith needs to return to form on both ends of the floor.

Ball movement

The Mavericks are at their best when they’re playing hot potato with the basketball and finding the open man. Smith has shown improved vision this season and Luka Doncic has also been a solid facilitator. Off the bench, J.J. Barea is leading the team in assists. However, the Mavs need everyone to swing the ball and this includes Harrison Barnes.

Barnes is Dallas’ go-to guy when it comes to post ups and isolation plays. Neither bodes well for his assist numbers. Yet, when he’s turned to in these situations, the offense can grind to a halt. While he’s good at scoring in these situations, if his shot isn’t falling, the entire offense can sputter, if not collapse outright—like it did against the Memphis Grizzlies.

He’s not going to see a lot of dime opportunities given his role, but Barnes has to be a willing passer when the situation presents itself. Even a hockey assists can go a long way in improving the team’s shot quality. The ball needs to keep moving no matter who is on the court.

How to watch

7:30 p.m. CT, FSSW or NBA League Pass

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