The Mavericks are in town to face the Timberwolves tonight. This is a pretty important game for the Wolves as they look to consolidate after winning their first two post-Christmas games against inferior Eastern Conference opponents. The Mavericks are a different animal, as they sit above the Wolves in the Western Conference standings and are one of the teams the Wolves will have to look to pass if they are going to make the playoffs.
Dirk Nowitzki is having a tremendous start to his season after missing a significant part of last year and showing signs of decline when he did play. While he isn't perhaps the player he was at his peak, his shooting on both twos and threes has rebounded from last season's relative difficulties.
The team as a whole is shooting very well--fifth in the league in EFG%, helped by the shooting of new point guard Jose Calderon (an amazing 48% from three). The Mavericks have an efficient offense that doesn't turn the ball over very much, but also doesn't get to the free throw line much. They take, and make, a lot of jump shots, both twos and threes. The Wolves will need to close out on their shooters and avoid getting out of position too much in help defense.
Where the Mavs have struggled is on defense, where they are in the bottom ten in the league in efg% allowed, defensive rebounding, and free throws allowed. The Wolves will need to do what they do best: hit the glass and force the Mavs to foul them if they want to win tonight.
The teams have already met twice this season, with the Wolves winning both meetings, one in each city. The common theme in both games was free throws: the Wolves had 60 FTAs in the two games combined, the Mavericks 26. Kevin Martin had big games both times, with 32 and 27 points, and Nikola Pekovic dominated the interior in the game in Dallas, going 10-13 from the field. The Mavericks shot well in both games, but were unable to make up for the free throw disparity.
Currently, the Mavericks sit in 8th in the Western Conference at 17-13, while the Wolves are 9th at 15-15. They need to continue to use this part of the schedule to make up ground on the teams in front of them, and that continues tonight, a game which starts a three game homestand and a stretch of five out of six at Target Center, none of them back to backs.
Beating the Wizards at home and the Bucks on the road is one thing; now they have to start beating Western Conference teams regularly. With the Pelicans and Thunder following the Mavericks into Target Center the rest of the week, they have their opportunity. They must take advantage of it.