YEE-HAW! Boston Celtics vs. Dallas Mavericks Sneak Preview

YEEEEEEEEE-HAW, little doggies!  The Dallas Mavericks are set to gallop on into the TD Garden tonight with a rip-roarin’ three-game winning streak under their belts.  We reckon those Texas varmints are feeling themselves the jo-fired hog at the trough, jes’ fixin’ to knock our boys into a cocked hat as they strive to keep that pot a-boiling.  Causeway Street’s gonna be hotter ‘n a whorehouse on nickel night!  YEEEEEEEEE-HAW!

Or, simply, the Mavs will look to keep their recent hot streak going tonight as they square off against the Boston Celtics.  After winning four of the season’s first five games, Dallas endured a prolonged three-week stumble, losing eight of their next 11, before righting the ship with another 4-1 stretch.  They’ve come out on top in their last three tries, with road victories over the Suns and Rockets prefacing Monday night’s 119-96 home thrashing of the Sacramento Kings.

The Mavs are doing what they can to stay afloat while franchise cornerstone Dirk Nowitzki continues to recover from knee surgery.  Though he had originally hoped to be back on the floor by mid-December, Dirk’s rehab has gone more slowly than expected, pushing his return date back into 2013.

In the meantime, Dallas middles along.  At present, their 11-10 record stands as seventh-best in the West, though with the Nuggets, Timberwolves, Rockets, and Lakers all two games or fewer back in the win column and only a quarter of the season gone, where they stand today means next to nothing in the grand scheme of things.  Their season numbers are befitting a .500 team angling for a low-level playoff seed: according to Basketball-Reference, their offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions) of 104.6 stands at fourteenth in the league, while their defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) of 105.1 stands at seventeenth.

Offensively, the team has relied on emergent scoring sensation O.J. Mayo to carry the day, perhaps to a fault.  Through this morning, Mayo is the league’s eighth most prolific scorer, averaging 20.8 points per game with an astounding, league-leading .530 three-point field goal percentage.

While these numbers are terrific – especially for a career sixth man getting his first taste of life as the number one option – they seem to represent plans A, B, and C for the Mavericks, who have lived and died with Mayo’s production.  Dallas is 8-3 when O.J. scores 20 points or more, compared to 3-7 when he scores less.  They are 10-3 when he hits better than 45 percent of his field goals, and 1-8 when he doesn’t.  Mayo’s scoring numbers in Dallas’ 11 wins: 25.7 points, 54.7 FG%, 61.4 3FG%.  His numbers in their 10 losses: 16.0 points, 40.7 FG%, 40.0 3FG%.

Plans D, E, and F revolve around accidental militia man Chris Kaman (14.3 PPG, .539 FG%), former dunk contest winner Vince Carter (12.7 PPG, .416 FG%, .398 3FG%), and undersized feisty fourth-year point guard Darren Collison (12.5 PPG, .5.7 APG, 448 FG%, .893 FT%).  Does it seem weird to anybody else that the Mavericks third- and fourth-leading scorers come off the bench?

This ragtag posse will face down a Celtics team coming off one resounding victory and three full days of rest.  The C’s last played on Saturday, when they took the second of a back-to-back set from the Philadelphia 76ers, 92-79.  The night before, Boston had suffered a 95-94 overtime loss that felt more like a careless slip than a legitimate beat.  The Celtics outshot their opponent 43 percent to 37, holding them to just 2-11 from beyond the arc, but gave back the advantage by losing the battles for turnovers (18-9) and offensive rebounds (17-7).  The Sixers attempted 99 field goals over the game’s 53 minutes, 18 more than the C’s, using sheer volume to overcome their low-percentage play.

On Saturday, the remedy was clear: gain ground on second chances and the rest will work itself out.  By cutting into the Sixers’ advantages in turnovers (11-8) and offensive rebounds (12-7), the Celtics reduced their field goal attempt edge to a much more manageable 79-75.  The Celtics once again outshot their opponent, this time by a huge margin (53 percent to 39), much more than was needed to secure the victory.

It seemed the one guy who didn’t get in on the fun was Jason Terry, who scored just 13 points off 4-21 from the field (3-12 from three) over the course of the two games.  He was arguably the worst player on the floor Friday night, making only one of his 12 shot attempts en route to a Game Score of -3.2, his lowest this season.  Will an engagement with his former mates from Dallas inspire a return to form?  Not likely, according to the man himself.

Saturday’s victory prompted some heartening comments from Doc Rivers, who essentially said that, though it hasn’t shown up in the record yet, the Celtics’ defense has been making its way back toward the top-flight level that folks have been used to seeing these past few years.  This prompted a thorough review of said improvement from Celtics Hub’s Michael Pina, a must-read for Celtics fans.  A key excerpt:

In the last 10 games (beginning with the blowout loss to Detroit) they’ve allowed the eighth fewest points per possession in the league. In the last eight games (beginning with the victory over Oklahoma City) they’ve lept to fourth, giving up a measly 95.9 points per 100 possessions. In their last five games (of which they played Portland and Milwaukee without Rajon Rondo, Minnesota, and Philadelphia twice) they’ve allowed 92.2 points per 100 possessions, which is best in the league over that span.

Today, Boston’s 103.3 points allowed per 100 possessions ranks ninth-best in the league.

Tonight, the Celtics take on a single-threat offensive attack with their legs rested and their defense in ascendance.  Those sound like Gino circumstances to us.  YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE-HAW!!!

Tags: Boston Celtics Dallas Mavericks O.J. Mayo

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