Two struggling NBA teams will take the court Wednesday night when the Dallas Mavericks visit the Boston Celtics at TD Garden. Dallas has struggled without star forward Dirk Nowitzki, but the team is on a three-game winning streak and could be on the verge of a turnaround.
Boston, despite coming within one game of a trip to the NBA Finals last season, has gotten off to a slow start in 2012-13. The Celtics are the worst rebounding team in the league, and the lack of a solid man-to-man defender besides Rajon Rondo has hurt them.
Similarly, Dallas is just two years removed from a championship but has struggled in the seasons since. Both teams really want a win coming into this game, and it's going to be close no matter who comes out on top.
The question thus presents itself: Will it be the scrappy Mavericks or the experienced Celtics?
Time: Wednesday, December 12, 8 p.m. EST
TV: ESPN, CSN HD, Fox Sports Southwest
Records: Dallas Mavericks (11-10) vs. Boston Celtics (11-9)
Betting Lines: Dallas (+6), Boston (-6)
Injuries: Dirk Nowitzki (knee, out), Shawn Marion (groin, day-to-day), Dominique Jones (illness, day-to-day), Avery Bradley (shoulder, out)
Key Storyline: Mavericks Look to Extend Streak Against Slow-Footed Celtics
The Mavericks are at a disadvantage entering this game, having gone 4-7 on the road this season. This is after the team got off to a 4-1 start. Dallas has since come back down to earth and has been exposed for what it really is: a young, inexperienced team that is desperately missing its star.
Nowitzki is still out and is not expected back until the new year (h/t The Dallas Morning News). Dallas will rely on its youth and some leadership from the newly signed Derek Fisher, which will make for a tough battle against the Celtics.
Granted, Boston is having struggles of its own this season. Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are starting to slow down with age, and nobody besides Rondo has really stepped up to compensate for that. Guard Avery Bradley could be a big help in this department, but he is not yet back from shoulder surgery.
Dallas must take full advantage of this if the team's winning streak is to reach four games. Boston has looked slow all season long and does not have the effective youth that Dallas has used to win games this season. The Celtics rely heavily on experience, but that means nothing when the opposition is quicker and executes plays better.
The fact is the Mavericks are finally recapturing the confidence that they had early in the season, and Boston had better be ready if it is going to break the streak.
Key Matchup: Kevin Garnett vs. Chris Kaman
Garnett and Kaman are six years apart in age, but the two are actually very similar players. At this point in his career, Garnett has become a defensive big man who can also hold his own on offense, but injuries have dogged him for the past few years.
On the season, the 36-year-old is averaging 16 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. He has not played a full season since joining the Celtics in 2007, and his defense this season has not been as tough and aggressive as it usually is.
Kaman is only 30 years old but plays a game similar to that of Garnett in the prime of his career. The seven-footer isn't particularly a strong scorer, but he is a solid rebounder and shot-blocker. When healthy, he can be a triple-threat.
Health is what has dogged Kaman for his entire career. He has appeared in over 70 games just four times in nine seasons and has already missed two games for Dallas this season. Despite that, he has been a good contributor and is averaging 14.3 points and 6.7 rebounds per game.
This is a matchup that Kaman can win, and all he really needs to do is stay focused. He cannot let Garnett intimidate him physically nor via trash talk. Kaman must have a plan in the paint and stick to it.
Kaman must also take full advantage of Garnett's age. At 36, the man is really starting to slow down and cannot play as physically as he used to. Kaman must use his size to take full advantage of that, be it forcing Garnett into the low post or not being afraid to bump him and draw a foul.
As was mentioned before, Boston is the worst rebounding team in the league. Kaman and the Mavericks are in a prime position to keep it that way, and it all starts with him defeating Garnett.
X-Factor: Jeff Green
The Mavericks have been relying on passionate youth to carry them in Nowitzki's absence, and the Celtics must do the same if they want to come away with a win. Fortunately for head coach Doc Rivers, he has a fine young player on his bench in the form of forward Jeff Green, who provides excellent defense a well as some occasional scoring.
Green is only averaging 9.8 points and three rebounds in 22.1 minutes per game off the bench, but he has turned on the afterburners in his last five games. The former Georgetown Hoya is averaging 16 points and 4.2 rebounds and is shooting an astounding 54 percent from the field. Green also has eight three-pointers over this stretch, not at all bad for someone measuring in at 6'9" and 235 pounds.
Rivers needs to let Green keep on doing what he's been doing when the Mavericks come to down. The man can score, play great defense, is a fine dunker, and just plays his heart out night after night. He seems to love Boston, and the fans love him in return.
Granted, he probably won't play more than 20 minutes against the Mavericks, but Green needs to make the most of his time on the floor and establish himself from the start. He needs to be the spark off of Boston's bench and play hard enough to warrant some extra playing time late in the game.
This game is going to be close, and the Celtics need Green to produce if they want a shot at winning.
The Celtics are 7-4 at home, but not even a rowdy crowd will be able to rally them against a Mavericks team with a renewed confidence. The offense from veterans Paul Pierce and Jason Terry will keep Boston in the game, but its defense will continue to struggle against a feisty Dallas team.
Kaman and Garnett's battle under the basket will be close, but Kaman's diligence will ultimately win out over Garnett's age. Dallas' center may not score many points, but he will pull down his fair share of rebounds and have some key blocked shots.
Boston will also look to Green to be the spark off the bench, but tonight just won't be his night. He will sink some shots but will not make the important ones late in the game.
Who will win?
Dallas' offense will come from deadly shooter O.J. Mayo, whose 53 percent shooting from three-point range currently leads the NBA. He is also averaging 20.8 points per game, and his new-found shooting accuracy will help his team's cause in this game.
The Celtics will do all that they can to keep the game close, but the Mavericks' youth will just be too much for them to handle. Dallas' winning streak will reach four games, and Boston will just be left wondering what went wrong.
Dallas Mavericks 104, Boston Celtics 98
All stats accurate as of December 11, 2012