The Dallas Mavericks (4-3) managed to take down the surging Utah Jazz in their 103-100 win on Wednesday. Luka Doncic led with 33 points and 11 assists, while Christian Wood (21) and Spencer Dinwiddie (20) each reached the 20-point threshold. The team will seek to make it three wins in a row when they take on the hot Toronto Raptors (5-3) on Friday.
As for the Raptors, their previous outing featured a 143-100 road win over the San Antonio Spurs. It was the largest margin of victory for Toronto in a road game in franchise history while also being the greatest margin of defeat for the Spurs during Gregg Popovich’s 27-year tenure.
Here are three key things to monitor when the Mavs take on the Raptors on Friday.
3. Can Mavs Slow Down Pascal Siakam?
It has been an impressive start to the season for Pascal Siakam. He’s averaging 25.6 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 7.9 assists with a pair of 30-point performances. Coming off an All-NBA Third-Team nod, he’s showing to be an even further improved talent.
“I just think Pascal has a great command of what he’s seeing and what he’s doing,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said.
Right now, the Mavs can deploy Dorian Finney-Smith as the primary defender since he has the strength and length to be disruptive. However, it takes a unified approach to contain such talents as Siakam and Scottie Barnes. Will the Mavs get what they need from their rim protectors? It would be a great matchup for JaVale McGee and Christian Wood to step up in that regard.
Dwight Powell may not offer the traditional rim protection that a 7-foot center may provide a defense, but he does bring energy and communication as the unit’s anchor when he plays. How long will he play? Will he make a needed impact in that regard?
2. How Much Will Mavs Deploy Zone Defense?
The Mavs have gotten off to slow starts defensively in their recent games. It hasn’t come with much surprise, considering they’ve struggled to contain dribble penetration and to protect the rim at times this season. Those struggles prompted the use of a zone defense
“Yeah, we’re working on that since we can’t guard man-to-man right now, we’re going to try everything,” Mavs coach Jason Kidd said of the team’s defense after their win over the Jazz. “We looked at the zone, zone helped us stay in the game. It’s just something that we needed to try to do. We’re struggling at times guarding, and especially in that first quarter, so after the jump ball we might start in the zone against Toronto. But we’ve got to get back on defense with them. [The Raptors] put up 143 tonight. We’ll get a good test. But to answer your question, we’re going to play zone whenever we get a chance.”
There were points when the Jazz struggled to execute against the Mavs’ zone. Dallas attempted to disguise in order to throw off Utah’s rhythm. Overall, it proved to slow down the opposition’s offense — achieving the intended outcome when deploying such a scheme.
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“Early, it was just us trying to find the right set to attack the zone,” Jazz guard Mike Conley said. “Dallas does a good job of disguising it and slowing you down. We were doing a lot of good things in man defense and we were able to do what we wanted to do. We did find a good set that worked, but it was still making us play slow and making us more hesitant on when to shoot and when not to shoot because you’re trying to find where the gaps are in the zone. That portion threw us off a little bit.”
The Raptors are not an easy team to contain out on the perimeter. With no shortage of strong, quick wings that can handle the ball, it may be a struggle for the Mavs’ defense to contain. How much will they deploy a zone?
1. How Raptors Approach Guarding Luka Doncic & Mavs’ Offense
Luka Doncic has been on a historic run to start the season — scoring at least 30 points in all seven of his performances. The Raptors are not an easy team to score against considering they deploy a switch-heavy scheme with the personnel to execute it at a high-level.
The Mavs may need to counter by limiting the playing time of non-shooting threats to spread things out in the half-court — enabling Doncic to break down his man off the dribble, or to attack out of the post.
“I don’t think I need to (score 30 points every game),” Doncic said recently. “Some nights I’m going to get doubled every time and somebody else is going to be open all game.”
Raptors coach Nick Nurse is known for getting creative within defensive coverages and being willing to try bold things. Will he start double-teaming Doncic to make other players beat them? It’s certainly something to keep an eye on and is something Doncic expects at times this season.
Toronto can really fly around the half-court and has defenders with quick hands, ready to force opportunistic turnovers. Can the Mavs keep their turnovers down? The Raptors are generating a league-best 10.8 steals per game, leading to 21.3 points off turnovers per game.
“That’s our identity,” Siakam said. “That’s what we have to be. We have to be that team that disrupts the other team, that gets them away from what they do best, period.”
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