Phoenix didn’t have much time to celebrate coming back from a 21-point deficit for a win at Denver, not with Dallas waiting for them at home less than 24 hours later.
Tonight marks yet another key matchup between Western Conference teams vying for an early season edge in the standings. The Mavericks (15-11) trail the sixth-place Suns (15-10) by just half a game, making tonight the first opportunity for both teams to get a first leg up in the season series.
Here are five things to watch for in tonight’s game.
Will Fatigue Matter for Either Team?
Both the Suns and Mavericks are coming off Friday night games that required maximum efforts. The Suns played catch-up for essentially the entire game. Dallas fell by one in overtime to Toronto.
Such performances usually take their toll, but Phoenix’s forced reliance on bench production last night could pay off doubly tonight. Only Goran Dragic played heavy minutes 40 at Denver, while Eric Bledsoe and Markieff Morris were the only other Suns to log at least – and exactly – 30.
If Phoenix can get out in transition, the Mavericks could wear sooner than later.
Is There a Good Matchup For Dirk?
The 35-year-old Nowitzki continues to age gracefully (21.1 points, 49.4 percent shooting) while making defenders look clumsy in the process.
P.J. Tucker offers the most discomfiting perimeter presence on defense, but would give up half a foot’s worth of height to the German forward. That leaves Channing Frye, Markieff Morris and possibly Marcus Morris the task of containing him.
Will Phoenix Burn Dallas in Small Ball?
The Mavericks have few traditional big men on their roster and prefer to play without one much of the time, anyway. DeJuan Blair and Samuel Dalembert have traded off as token starting centers, but often Dallas will run Nowitzki in the middle, flanked by Shawn Marion on Brendan Wright in the frontcourt.
That’s just fine with the Suns, who have punished recent opponents who employ similar lineups. Frye and Markieff Morris’ ability to slide over to center make such an adjustment far from awkward while further enabling Pheonix’s fast break game.
Is Tucker Due a Breakout Game?
After showing off his much-improved jump shot over the first six weeks of the season, P.J. Tucker is struggling through a five-game stretch of just 5.4 points per game on 21.6 percent shooting.
While he is still relied upon for elite-level defense, Tucker’s production at the other end, particularly the three-point line, is vital for the starting lineup’s balance when Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe attack the basket.
Some of his teammates have already fought through earlier rough spots this season. Given the work Tucker puts in, it’s a question of when, not if, he’ll round back into form.
Will Interior Be Ready for Ellis?
Monta Ellis averages a whopping 16.2 field goal attempts per game, but only 2.2 of them are from beyond the arc. The Mavs’ newcomer excels at knifing through the defense to score inside and/or draw the foul.
Miles Plumlee ranks seventh in the league in blocks per game (1.9), but he and his frontcourt teammates will need to be careful to not compromise the interior defense by rotating too far out of position and give up easy offensive rebounds to the likes of Shawn Marion.