Game Preview: 76ers vs. Mavericks
The 76ers (0-10) will begin a string of two straight games at The Center, pairing up with the Dallas Mavericks (6-4) at 7:00 PM on Monday. The Sixers are in the midst of a stretch during which they go up against six straight opponents that currently hold winning records. Dallas, having won three contests in a row, seems to have steadied itself after a 3-4 start.
On Saturday, the Sixers put themselves in position to pull off an unlikely outcome against the San Antonio Spurs. Fueled by Jahlil Okafor’s big fourth quarter, the team zoomed to within four points of San Antonio with just over three minutes to play. A combination of turnovers, plus a clutch bucket from Tim Duncan, prevented the Sixers from making further in-roads. Okafor registered his second double-double in three outings, posting 21 points and 12 rebounds.
After splitting a home-and-home set with the New Orleans Pelicans last week, the Mavericks have recorded consecutive victories against the Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, and - most recently - the Houston Rockets. Although 37-year old Dirk Nowitzki sat out versus the Rockets, he paces the Mavs with an average of 17.8 points per game. While Dallas parted ways with the likes of Tyson Chandler, Monta Ellis, Richard Jefferson, and Rajon Rondo during the off-season, the franchise re-made its roster by bringing in a new group of veterans, featuring Wesley Matthews, Zaza Pachulia, and Deron Williams.
The Sixers have been knocked off in each of their last four clashes with Dallas. Their most recent win over the Mavericks came nearly three years ago in 2012, during the final week of November. There was little that didn’t go Dallas’ way in the first meeting between these two teams last season. The Mavericks outscored the Sixers 38-10 in the first quarter, on the way to a 123-70 win at the American Airlines Center. The 70 points marked the fewest scored by the Sixers in the 35-year history of their series with Dallas. Two weeks later, the Sixers trailed by only four points with five minutes to go in their re-match with the Mavs, but ultimately fell, 110-103, at The Center.
Despite dropping their back-to-back set with Oklahoma City and San Antonio over the weekend, the Sixers didn’t “backpedal,” as Brett Brown put it. In fact, the Sixers were competitive in both match-ups, drawing to within a point of the Thunder in the closing moments of Friday’s third quarter, and then fighting to within four points of the Spurs with three minutes left in Saturday’s contest. What was one factor that allowed the Sixers to hang tough with two formidable opponents? Their defense.
The Thunder managed to convert only 40.2 percent of their field goal attempts against the Sixers, after entering the weekend with the second-best field goal percentage in the NBA. The following day, the Spurs, which had knocked down a league-best 49.7 percent of their shots, shot a season-worst 38.8 versus the Sixers. San Antonio’s 92 points also marked its lowest total of the year.
Another encouraging defensive development trending in the Sixers’ direction has been their recent ability to seal off the perimeter. Over their past three games, the Sixers have allowed opponents to shoot a meager 30.5 percent from three-point territory.
Dallas will arrive at The Center with the 12th-best offensive rating in the NBA, and the league’s 14th-highest field goal percentage.
When it comes to three-point shooting, Nik Stauskas is looking to find his rhythm. The second-year pro has made 28.1 percent of his triple attempts this season, going 18 of 64 from deep. He misfired on all three of his attempts outside the arc against San Antonio on Saturday.
“I think all shooters, all players, go through periods where they’re not playing up to their standards,” Brett Brown said. He was pleased to observe that Stauskas, even with his shots not falling, remained committed to competing on other end of the floor.
“I think what we look at is the defensive side of things, and we have seen pride, we have seen improvement, and him trying to get better as a defender. We’ll get him going when we go back to Philadelphia.”
Stauskas connected on 32.2 percent from the perimeter as a rookie with the Sacramento Kings last season.
Dirk Nowitzki’s credentials are pretty sterling. He’s been selected to 13 NBA All-Star Games, was named the league MVP in 2007, and helped guide Dallas to a title in 2011. The German import ranks seventh all-time with 28,279 career points, and is second among active players with a 193.2 win share, the statistic used to approximate the number of team victories to which a player’s production can be attributed.
In his 18th NBA season, the 37-year old Nowtizki recently was quoted by USA Today as saying he plans to honor his current contract with the Mavericks, the only team for which he’s ever played. The deal lasts through the end of next season.
“I still feel like I can contribute at a high level, maybe not every night, but every now and then” Nowitzki, tongue-in-cheek, told the FOX television affiliate in Dallas over the summer. “I’m still having fun. I think that’s the most important part is I still love to compete. I think once that’s gone, I might as well go home.”
According to basketball-reference.com, Nowitzki, who’s producing 17.8 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, is just the second player in NBA history to generate those averages in his 18th season or later. Karl Malone is the other. The Mailman posted 20.6 points and 7.8 rebounds during his 2002-2003 campaign with the Utah Jazz.
Sixers Health Report:
Robert Covington (right knee MCL sprain)
Richaun Holmes (hamstring)
TV - Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia
Radio - 97.5 FM The Fanatic (and additional Sixers Radio Network affiliate stations)
Video Stream - https://www.csnphilly.com / NBC Sports Live Extra