The Spurs are starting the second half of their regular-season schedule against a familiar foe in Luka Doncic and the Mavericks. A mixture of injuries and coronavirus protocols decimated both teams in their first meeting. But the second go-round should look dramatically different as each has regained the serves of several key contributors.
Although an abbreviated All-Star Break allowed everyone an opportunity to rest up for a few days, San Antonio will have to make the most of their brief hiatus. Dallas was on a roll before the annual midseason exhibition, and the Silver and Black will be tested as travel up I-35 for a date with the Mavericks that kicks off 40 games in 68 days.
San Antonio Spurs (18-14) @ Dallas Mavericks (18-16)
March 10, 2021 | 7:30 PM CST
Watch: NBA TV | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)
Spurs Injuries: Devin Vassell (Out — Coach’s Decision), Quinndary Weatherspoon (Out — On Assignment)
Mavericks Injuries: Nate Hinton (Out — On Assignment)
Protecting the Perimeter
The Spurs have allowed opponents to shoot the fifth-highest three-point percentage (38.3%) in the NBA this season, and while that hasn’t been a routinely fatal flaw, their poor perimeter defense has cost them a few games. Dallas might not be the most accurate team from long-distance, but they have surrounded Luka with a handful of knock-down marksmen to kick that ball out to at a moment’s notice.
Despite a cold start from beyond the arc to kick off the season, the Mavs have attempted the eighth-most triples (385) in the league and knocked them down at a respectable 37.7% clip over their last ten games. Maxi Kleber, Jalen Brunson, Trey Burke, and Tim Hardway Jr. can get hot in the blink of an eye, and one absurdly deep trifecta is all Luka and Porzingis need to get into an unstoppable groove.
A shorthanded San Antonio squad held a similar depleted Dallas bunch in check from deep in a loss last time these interstate rivals met back in late January, but both clubs should be near 100% for this rematch. Can the Silver and Black take round two, or will the Mavericks continue their outside onslaught when Popovich and company travel to the American Airlines Center to begin the second half of their schedule?
Slowing Down Luka Doncic
Luka Doncic became the sixth player in NBA history to start multiple All-Star games before their 23rd birthday, and that speaks volumes about his ability to set himself apart from his peers at such an early age. Not only is the six-seven point forward a threat to record a triple-double on a nightly basis, but his improved team and man-to-man defense have significantly raised his already impossibly high ceiling.
Although Doncic has averaged nearly 30 points per game, his remarkable vision has been his greatest weapon, and the Mavericks are 11-5 when he registers at least nine assists. Dallas is only 6-10 when Luka fails to reach that mark. And with a completely intact roster at his disposal, the Spurs won’t have much room for error when it comes to slowing down the 22-year-old MVP candidate.
Seeing as athletic big men have given San Antonio fits over the last few years, Kristaps Porzingis could quickly become an additional problem for the good guys to solve. His pedestrian return from knee surgery might have given Mavs fans a cause for concern, though the towering seven-three center has seemingly recaptured his All-Star form right in time for Dallas to make a second-half surge.
San Antonio is finally nearing healthy for the first time since four positive COVID tests postponed four consecutive games in mid-February. Though Devin Vassell and Quinndary Weatherspoon remain sidelined, the long-awaited return of Rudy Gay and Derrick White should provide the Spurs with a significant boost to their starting lineup and second unit.
Head coach Gregg Popovich must now face the challenge of reintegrating the previously named players into rotations that played pretty well in their absence. Will Trey Lyles, Drew Eubanks, Luka Samanic, and Keita Bates-Diop reassume their roles as depth-insurance third-stringers, or will Rudy Gay and LaMarcus Aldridge compete with them for minutes?
Pop will likely ease LMA, Gay, and Derrick White back into playing shape, so don’t be shocked if Luka or Lyles receive plenty of playing time against Dallas. With that said, Keldon Johnson could be in line to resume his usual workload, and that would undoubtedly eat into whatever run remains for a crowded San Antonio depth chart.
For the Mavericks fans’ perspective, visit Mavs Moneyball.
PtR’s Gamethread will be up this evening for those who want to chat through the game. You can also follow along with the action through PtR’s Twitter feed.