Two of the league's faster offenses will face off tonight, when the Dallas Mavericks visit the Phoenix Suns. Both teams like to play the run-and-gun, which should make for a high-scoring game. Both have also gotten off to slow starts this year, and will look to get back on track tonight.
Dallas has been without star forward Dirk Nowitzki all season long, and has stumbled to an 8-10 record after a 4-1 start. Just two years removed from a championship, the team looks just one step away from a full-on rebuilding phase.
Phoenix has been disappointing as well, standing 7-12 in the Pacific Division. The team has lost four straight, and new acquisitions in Michael Beasley and Goran Dragic have been disappointing thus far. Granted, it could just be an adjustment to life without star point man Steve Nash, but the team has still underachieved.
Tonight is an opportunity at redemption for both teams. Phoenix will be looking to break its losing streak, and Dallas will want to improve its dismal road record to 3-7. In a battle of youth, this one could be close.
Time: Thursday, December 6th, 10:30 p.m. EST
Records: Dallas Mavericks (8-10) vs. Phoenix Suns (7-12)
Betting Lines: Dallas (+3), Phoenix (-3)
Injuries: Dirk Nowitzki (knee, out), Sebastian Telfair (personal, expected to play), Channing Frye (heart, out)
Key Storyline: Suns Look to Break Losing Streak Against Feisty Mavs
The Suns are a team defined by their fast-paced offense, but they have struggled all season long in that regard. They rank 12th in points scored at 98.4 per game, and inconsistency has gotten the better of them.
Goran Dragic signed a four-year deal over the summer after performing well for the Houston Rockets over the final two months of last season, but has not been the same type of playmaker that his predecessor Steve Nash was. Rather, he has been more of a mid-level scoring point guard who also plays tough defense, a la Raymond Felton.
Michael Beasley has been nothing but a disappointment. He has shot just 38 percent from the field for the season, and an abysmal 28 percent from long range. The former Kansas State Wildcat is averaging a career low 11.5 points per contest.
Both Beasley and Dragic will need to be in top form against the Dallas Mavericks tonight. Despite their struggles without Nowitzki, the Mavericks are still a team just two years removed from a championship. If Nowitzki were healthy, they would definitely be playing much better basketball.
They will be looking to improve their record on the road, and send Phoenix to a fifth straight loss. The Suns will be fully locked in since they have home court advantage, and will stop at nothing to break their streak.
The fact is that this game is going to be close, and both teams are equally hungry for the win.
Key Matchup: Michael Beasley vs. Shawn Marion
If the Suns are to get out of their funk, Beasley simply needs to break out of his against Dallas. He has averaged just 8.8 points over his last five games, and must start being the offensive catalyst the Suns need him to be.
It won't be easy for him to score points tonight, what with former Phoenix Sun and defensive pest Shawn Marion guarding him. Marion has only averaged 9.5 points per game this season, but has recently stepped up his scoring efforts. He is averaging 13.2 points and 6.6 rebounds in his last five games, and is shooting 52 percent from the floor.
Still, Marion is at something of a disadvantage against Beasley. At 6'7", he is three inches shorter than his opponent. He will thus have to resort to playing absolute lockdown defense and contest each and every one of Beasley's shots.
On the offensive end, Marion must take full advantage of Beasley's weak defensive game. The man is a pure shooter who plays little to no defense, and the experienced Marion needs to exploit that. He is the veteran voice in the locker room while Nowitzki is gone, which means leading by example and giving his best effort night after night.
It won't be easy against fast-paced Phoenix, but Marion is the key to Dallas maintaining pace in this game and inching closer to a win.
X-Factor: Luis Scola
The Suns' greatest weakness, besides inconsistency on offense, is their frontcourt. Marcin Gortat provides solid defense in the paint, but often struggles against more-experienced centers. Second-year man Markieff Morris has good size at 6'10", 245 pounds, but still has a lot to learn about playing in Phoenix's fast offense.
Despite its starters' shortcomings, Phoenix still has one reliable frontcourt player off the bench, in the form of veteran Luis Scola. He signed a one-year deal with the Suns after being amnestied by the Houston Rockets over the summer, and has averaged 12.7 points and 6.8 rebounds in time split between the starting lineup and the bench.
Scola needs to have a great game tonight in order for the Suns to have even a remote shot at victory. Everyone on the team has been inconsistent except for him. If given significant minutes, he is a lock to provide solid scoring and good defense.
Be it as a starter or off the bench tonight, Scola has what it takes to have a great game against Dallas. Assuming he is matched up against Elton Brand, Scola will be at a great advantage. He has good size at 6'9", 245 pounds, is a superior athlete, and can stretch the floor as well as play a good game in the paint.
The stage is set for him to play a key role in breaking Phoenix's losing streak. If Dragic and Beasley's struggles continue, Suns coach Alvin Gentry will hopefully be wise to use the gem he has in Scola.
All slumps eventually come to an end. Unfortunately for the Suns, theirs will not against the Mavericks. Dallas has just too many offensive weapons, from O.J. Mayo to Vince Carter to rookie Jae Crowder. Against Phoenix, who ranks last in points allowed, they will run rampant.
Luis Scola will come close to a double-double and do all he can to keep the Suns in the game, but the struggles of both Beasley and Morris will catch up with the team. Dragic will put up a decent number of points, but it won't be enough as the fans long for the days of Nash.
Who will win?
On Dallas' end, look for Marion to handily win his battle against Beasley. He'll force bad shots, create some good ones of his own, and play some of his best defense of the season. O.J. Mayo will lead the offense and have yet another fine scoring night, and Dallas will have an extra bounce in its step against struggling Phoenix.
Granted, the Suns will go on their fair share of scoring streaks and keep the game close at some points, but Dallas will be in full control once the second half is underway. All struggles aside, they are still a team capable of contending for a championship, and their potential will shine bright tonight.
Dallas Mavericks 107, Phoenix Suns 96