To help preview Thursday’s game in Texas – the finale of a three-game road trip for New Orleans – we caught up with Dallas Mavericks TV broadcaster Mark Followill. A familiar voice for Mavs fans, Followill has called the team’s games since 2000.
Pelicans.com: Dallas has been part of a lengthy list of Western Conference teams hovering around the .500 mark. What’s the biggest objective during the second half of this season? Homecourt advantage in the first round? Avoiding the play-in tournament? Something else?
Followill: It would be to go as high as they can in the standings in order to position themselves for another playoff run. To answer more specifically, it is avoiding the play-in tournament. The Mavs are a team that has shown they can beat anyone this season but also lose to anyone, so having their season come down to one or two games, and some of those flaws potentially costing them a shot at the playoffs would be very nerve-wracking.
Pelicans.com: Mavericks perennial All-Star guard Luka Doncic is in the MVP conversation again and has been particularly outstanding when facing New Orleans head-to-head (career 29.9 ppg, 49 percent shooting). Are there aspects of his game he’s taken to another level this season?
Followill: More than anything Luka just has taken his feel for what the team needs at any point in the game to another level. If other teams are doubling him, he is content to look for the open guy. If it’s a situation where clearly scoring is what the team needs, then he is determined to do what he can in that aspect. Also, Luka is playing better defense this year too. He’s been in the top 10 in steals for most of the season and recognized after the Phoenix series last year that some teams would attack him on that end of the floor, and he had to be better.
Pelicans.com: Surrounding Doncic are a series of quality starters and role players. Which members of the roster will potentially be the most vital to Dallas’ success in the second half and postseason?
Followill: Spencer Dinwiddie is the first name to mention because he gives Dallas another guy who can create offense and make plays for other people. The Mavs are short on players who can create offense after the departure of Jalen Brunson, making Dinwiddie’s ability to take some of that workload off Luka very important. Dorian Finney-Smith and Reggie Bullock are the others I think because we know how important 3-and-D wings are in the NBA. Both of them routinely played over 40 minutes in playoff games and were critical to the team’s playoff success. Between an injury for Finney-Smith and a slow start for Bullock, they are just rounding into form as we move into February.
Pelicans.com: What’s one thing fans might be surprised to know about the Mavericks?
Followill: That free throw shooting has been a huge issue for them this season. For many, many seasons in the Dirk Nowitzki era, the Mavs were among the best in free throw percentage. This year, they are one of the worst in the league and it has cost them probably five wins.
Previous Game Starting Lineups
NEW ORLEANS (26-26, 10TH IN WEST)
Tuesday loss at Denver
CJ McCollum, Herb Jones, Trey Murphy, Brandon Ingram, Jonas Valanciunas
Notes: This group is 2-4. Both of those victories occurred during a Nov. 15-16 home/home back-to-back against Memphis and Chicago. … A Thursday victory for the Pelicans would create a four-team tie between New Orleans, Dallas, Phoenix and Utah, with all clubs at 27-26. The Suns and Jazz are idle Thursday. New Orleans would remain in the No. 10 spot with a Thursday loss, regardless of other outcomes.
DALLAS (27-25, 6TH IN WEST)
Monday win vs. Detroit
Spencer Dinwiddie, Luka Doncic, Tim Hardaway Jr., Dorian Finney-Smith, Dwight Powell
Notes: This group is 9-6, representing the most wins and starts for any Mavericks lineup this season. A separate quintet is 6-1, with Christian Wood and Bullock in the frontcourt instead of Finney-Smith and Powell. … The sixth- through ninth-place teams in the West are all either tied with Dallas (No. 6 Minnesota is also two games over .500) or a half-game behind the Mavericks.
FanDuel Keys to the Game
CONTAIN MAVS GUARDS
The Dallas starting backcourt of Doncic and Dinwiddie has been a handful for the New Orleans defense in two head-to-head meetings (the Pelicans won at home Oct. 25; the Mavericks returned the favor Jan. 7). Doncic has averaged 35.5 points, while Dinwiddie is shooting 52 percent from the field and 4/10 on three-pointers.
Naji Marshall has been valuable all season for New Orleans, but particularly so against Dallas in a pair of shorthanded situations for the Pelicans. “The Knife” leads NOLA in scoring over those two games with an average of 19.5 points (on 58 shooting from the field). Only seven Pels players have appeared in both matchups vs. the Mavs, who have not faced Zion Williamson or Ingram this season.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
At forward, Murphy and Hardaway are offensive X-factors for their teams. Murphy is 5/8 on treys vs. Dallas this season, averaging 14.5 points. Meanwhile, Hardaway only faced the Pelicans in the Jan. 7 game but did major damage, shooting 7/9 from the field (4/6 on threes) and tallying 18 points in 31 minutes.