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The Matchups: Dallas Mavericks vs. Cleveland Cavaliers

Dallas Mavericks

The Matchups: Dallas Mavericks vs. Cleveland Cavaliers

Two of the NBA’s worst defenses matchup tonight at the American Airlines Center as the 2–10 Dallas Mavericks host the 5–7 Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs have won four of the last five meetings with the Mavericks including two thirty point thrashing’s that took place in 2015 & 2016.

Fortunately for the Mavs, the Cavs are off to an extremely slow start thanks to the NBA’s worst defensive rating, conceding 113.0 points per-100 possessions, 3.4 points higher the Phoenix Suns at 109.6 per-contest. 1 Cleveland is currently riding a 10-game streak in which they have allowed at least 112 points. Yikes.

On a brighter note for the Cavs, they are facing a Mavs team who have a bottom five offense at 99.9 points per 100 possessions. Not to mention that the Cavs have the best player on the planet, LeBron James.

Last season the teams ended up splitting their regular season matchup with the Cavs. During their only opportunity to host Cleveland last season, the Mavs won 104–97. Harrison Barnes led all scorers with 24 points.

The Mavericks are coming off their 2nd victory of the season as they defeated the Wizards in Washington 113–99. Can the Mavs continue to ride this puddle of momentum? Maybe, just maybe, they can muster up some of that same magic that took place back in January during their home win versus Cleveland.

To get you prepared for the matchup with the Cavs, let’s run through the position-by-position battles that will ultimately define how tonight’s game transpires.

*Please note these are the probable starters via NBA media game notes.

Spread: Cavs -5.5
Over / Under: 218

Point Guard
Dennis Smith Jr. (6–3, 185, Rookie) vs. Iman Shumpert (6–5, 220, 7th Year)

Due to injuries from Derrick Rose and Isaiah Thomas, the Cavaliers have smartly shifted their main ball-handling duties to none other, LeBron James. For matchup purposes, I have slotted Shumpert 2 against the Mavericks rookie point guard Dennis Smith, Jr. 

The matchup itself could workout in the Mavericks favor if Shumpert decides to float around on the perimeter as a mere spot-up guy. That would not only give the Mavericks the opportunity to conserve Smith’s energy more for the offensive end but it would also allow the young rookie an opportunity to hit the defense glass in which the Mavericks rank near the bottom of the NBA (26th) with 32 defensive rebounds per game.

Watch to see how Cleveland’s Head Coach Tyronn Lue uses Shumpert on the offensive end. Smith will be guarding either Shumpert or Smith to start out. You’d have to think Lue will want to run some pick-and-roll actions involving Smith and Dirk whenever they are out on the floor together.

Offensively, Smith has been a solid rhythm as of late. Over his last 4 games, Smith has averaged 18.5 points, 3.8 assists, 4.5 rebounds on 40 percent shooting. He seems to have found some comfort at the free throw line as he has hit 8 of his last 9 attempts raising his season average up to 59 percent. You’d like for Smith to facilitate a little more but he’s been aggressive attacking the paint. Smith averages 13.1 drives per game which would rank him 13th amongst all starters in the NBA per, NBA.com/stats. It’s imperative for Smith to limit his turnovers while remaining aggressive which is a tall order for any player especially a rookie.

Advantage: Moderate Mavs

Shooting Guard
Yogi Ferrell (6–0, 180, 2nd Year) vs. JR Smith (6–6, 225, 14th Year)

If Head Coach Rick Carlisle decides to trot out the backcourt of Dennis Smith Jr and Yogi Ferrell, the Mavericks will have a noticeable size disadvantage. But in reality, that backcourt is going to be small against most lineups in the NBA. During Tuesday’s victory in Washington, Yogi struggled a tad defending the bigger more physically imposing Bradley Beal. Those kind of assignments are tough on any guard, but especially a player of Yogi’s stature.

Like that of Dennis Smith, the Cavs will be looking to get the Ferrell involved in pick-and-roll actions hoping to entice switches. On the other end of the court, Ferrell is shooting 40.4 percent from 3–point range on 47 attempts. 

Smith currently ranks 14th on the all-time three-pointers list with 1,793 triples. Interestingly enough, Smith trails Dirk by just two 3’s from 13th on the list. We could have a back and forth 3–point history battle on hands tonight!

Advantage: Cavs

Small Forward
Wes Matthews (6–5, 220, 9th Year) vs. LeBron James (6–8, 250, 15th Year)

Wes Matthews could have his toughest defensive battle of the season if Carlisle elects to have him defend LeBron James tonight. Look for both Matthews and Harrison Barnes to get their crack at the King.

The Iron Man appears to have his stroke back as he is shooting a scorching 44 percent from distance on 68 attempts. Matthews is giving the Mavericks optimal spacing on the offensive end. He has also improved his playmaking abilities by driving into free throw line area and facilitating from there.

Matthews is second on the team with 408 minutes played this season trailing just Harrison Barnes who has logged a total of 421 minutes. Due to his high minutes totals combined with the fact the Mavs have been had some negative defenders on the court in other positions, the Mavs are currently sporting an astronomical 117.4 defensive rating with Wes Matthews on the court. Matthews has a minus-18 net rating while he has been on the court this season. Matthews is looked upon to be the Mavericks best defender, yet when he sits (168 minutes) the team’s defensive rating dips to 89.1 per, NBA.com/stats. These numbers are still a relatively small sample size but will be very interesting to continue to monitor throughout the season.

What more can we say about LeBron James? Are we sure he is human? James in his 15th season in the league is averaging 29.3 points, 8.9 assists, and 7.0 rebounds per game on 60.1 percent shooting. After dropping 57 points versus Washington last week, Lebron told media this:

All of this is a little scary for any Mavericks fan. The Cavs are coming off a tough loss to the Rockets. After resting all day yesterday, you’d have to think LeBron will come out motivated to get his Cavs back on track.

Advantage: Significant Edge Cleveland

Power Forward
Harrison Barnes (6–8, 210, 6th Year) vs. Jae Crowder (6–6, 235, 6th Year)

You’d have to think that Jae Crowder loves every opportunity he has returning to Dallas to prove to Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson that they were wrong after they trading him back in December of 2014. Crowder is in his first season in Cleveland after being part of the infamous Kyrie Irving trade. Coming into tonight, Crowder has started 9 of 12 games, averaging just a shade under 26 minutes per game. Crowder has struggled with his shot shooting just 38.7 percent from the field and 31.6 percent from 3–point territory.

Crowder will have his hands full on the defensive end with the Mavericks best player Harrison Barnes. Barnes is coming off his best performance of the season:

Barnes was an instrumental figure in last seasons home win versus the Cavs. Look for him to continue his aggressiveness right away. Barnes is averaging a team-high in both points (18.4) and rebounds (6.2) for the Mavs.

Advantage: Mavericks

Center
Dirk Nowitzki (7–0, 245, 20th Year) vs. Kevin Love (6–10, 250, 10th Year)

The 2017–2018 season has been quite a struggle for the face of the franchise, Dirk Nowitzki. On one hand, it’s positive that he’s appeared in all 12 of the Mavericks games, but it’s just been a struggle while he’s been out on the court. Dirk is averaging his fewest point per game total at 10.2 since his rookie season back during the 1998–1999 where he averaged 8.2. Yes, Dirk is just playing 24.2 minutes per game a slight dip from his 26.4 of last season but his production just hasn’t been there. We are still early in the season. It may take the “Big Mummy” a little longer to get going due to the shortened preseason. But Dirk is always going to be a defensive liability at this point in his career. He’s going to have his hands full with the versatile stretch center in Kevin Love. Love is averaging 17.6 points and 10.4 rebounds per game while shooting 36.2 percent from 3–point territory on 4.8 attempts.

It’ll be interesting to see how Love performs tonight. His best performance of the season came last Tuesday when the Cavs defeated the Bucks 124–119. Love played like a true center against a Bucks team that lacks any interior presence (much like Dallas) 3 Love had 32 points on 9–14 shooting and attempted zero three’s! He was a beast on the glass grabbing 8 of his 16 rebounds on the offensive side. If Love plays anything like he did against the Bucks, the Mavericks are going to have some serious issues.

Advantage: Cavs

Bench

The Mavs bench unit got some serious production from Salah Merji last game as he went for a double-double 10 points and 12 rebounds in 25 minutes of action. Mejri was a force to be wrecked with at the rim blocking 5 shots.

The Cavs had a similar type of impact from their bench as Jeff Green went off versus Houston for 27 points on 11 of 15 shooting in 38 minutes. The Cavs have been using Green as a stretch center this season.

The Cavs bring more weapons off the bench including Dwyane Wade & Kyle Korver. Who both give the Cavs something unique off the bench with Wade’s playmaking ability and Korver’s shooting.

Advantage: Cavs

It should be an exciting game with both teams desperately needing a win.

Prediction: 117–107 Cavs

  1. The Mavs rank 28th with a defensive rating of 109.1 per, ESPN.
  2. Shumpert recently started in Cavs Thursday loss to Houston
  3. Sorry, Salah!

Born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. Received my Bachelor of Science in Sport Administration from the University of Cincinnati in 2012. NBA fan in a college basketball city. I've been a MFFL since the Nellie Days.

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