Thursday night’s home opener against the New Orleans Pelicans marks the start of a grueling stretch of games. eight straight against 8 teams .500 or better, all vying for a playoff seed in the hotly contested Western Conference.
While the Mavericks had a tough January of injuries and defensive struggles, the Pelicans had an arguably worse stretch. Despite their top two players in Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram, the division rival went 3-13 on the month and lost nine straight after finishing December at the top of the Western standings at 23-13.
Here are a few things to watch out for.
More video game numbers from Luca
Luka Doncic scored 53 points for 58 against the Detroit Pistons on Monday night. Prior to this season, his career high four came in February. We know that Luca often gets hot over a stretch of games, as he did during the team’s 7-game winning streak in late December, and the aforementioned signs point to another one.
January was a bit more hit or miss as Luca seemed to wear down from the weight of carrying the burden of making the squad, culminating in his latest ankle injury. Seemingly rested without his main goalscoring partner in Christian Wood, it’s safe to bet on Luca’s points total.
Injured but talented Pelicans
As previously stated, the Pelicans are struggling, but they still have plenty of athleticism and scoring punch. The Mavericks are lucky Zion Williamson is out because there isn’t a player on earth other than Giannis Antetokounmpo more capable of exploiting the weakness in their wing defense. However, Brandon Ingram is back after missing 29 games. He’s a poor shooter when shaking off the rust, but he and C.J. McCollum bring in plenty of points on their own, and this could easily be the game where Ingram looks like himself.
Despite their losing streak with McCollum as the lone member of their Big Three, the Pelicans are deep elsewhere, with the kind of scrappy, young athletes that often give the older, slower Mavericks trouble. They’re up in arms after gobbling them up in recent drafts (look out for Trey Murphy III, a personal favorite sporting 48-40-92 shooting splits), and Jonas Valenquinas is exactly the kind of bruiser Dwight Powell can use on the boards. .
Spencer Dinwiddie’s balancing act
Spencer Dinwiddie did a great job filling in for Luca in his two-game absence, scoring 71 points over two games, including 11 3-pointers and a whopping 24 (!) free throw attempts. Then in Luca’s first game back, he struggled, going 5-for-16, his worst performance in over a month.
Talk of playing alongside Luca often lacks nuance, but it’s true that basketball players often benefit from the rhythm, urgency and aggressiveness that come with running an offense for a full game. Dinwiddie leads the bench unit without Luca, and he hasn’t always been that way that formation of blisters. How does he find a way to become the player we saw in those two games, both with Luka and leading off the bench? That question is extremely important now. we just witnessed a game where Luca nearly matched the rest of the team’s point total, and Christian Wood’s return is still a week or so away.
How to watch?
You can watch Bally Sports Southwest or with NBA League Pass if you’re outside the DFW area. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m