Mavs-at-Celtics Preview: Friday Donuts

Are the Mavs ready to jump back into the championship conversation? We preview Mavs-at-Boston in Donuts:

DONUT 1: We mentioned yesterday on DallasBasketball.com that the Dallas Mavericks have played the most difficult schedule in the league and at some point it has to soften up. Well, the pillow talk will have to wait as the Mavs (33-15) are in Boston tonight at 7 playing the defending Eastern Conference champs (37-11). Continuing their winding road-trip through the east, the Mavs hit up the Boston Garden (er, TD Bank North… whatever) for a clash of conference title hopefuls in the national spotlight.

As what is consistently the case during these last few years, the Celtics come into this game on a roll. Winners of eight of their last 10, they're also nearing a healthy roster for the first time in what seems like forever. They're first in the Atlantic division, first in the Eastern Conference, and they're the favorite to get back to the finals. The Mavs took the first meeting earlier this year on November 8 in Dallas, so let's take a look and figure out how the next one will go.

It's a possible finals matchup (c'mon, we could see it!)!

DONUT 2: The Storyline: The ebbs and flows of the NBA season have brought us to a point where the Mavs' six-game losing streak feels like it occurred a year ago. Since the streak ended, the Mavs are back to allowing 94.8 points per game and are entertaining a point-differential of nearly +7.0 in eight games. Additionally, help appears to be on the way with Peja Stojakovic and the mythical Roddy Beaubois poised for returns in the near future, giving the Mavs and MFFLs alike the most hope they've had since the pre-injuries 12-game winning streak.

Due to untimely injuries, the Mavs fell out of favor as championship contenders with the national (and probably local) media. The Mavs now have the opportunity to erase any leftover negativity surrounding the team of late with a win in Boston on ESPN (or, as we prefer, FS Southwest) for all to see. Displaying confidence and swagger to a nationally televised audience would be a good way to show the country that Dallas' start to the season was no fluke. A win over the Celtics would be a momentous game for good reason.

DONUT 3: Boston is good. They're real good.

There is no denying the Celtics' championship pedigree and will to win. Their combination of veteran leadership and young athleticism has them as a top contender, and possibly the favorite, to win the 2011 championship. Everything is slowly starting to piece together for them as well. Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo have gotten over their injury woes from earlier in the season, Kendrick Perkins is easing back into his spot as he recovers from knee surgery, and Shaquille O'Neal has settled into their style and his role.

With the recent success of Doc Rivers, you can now never doubt their system. The Celtics lost the architect of their vaunted defense when Tom Thibodeau left the bench for Chicago after last season, but they still allow the fewest points per game in the league at 91.5. The Mavs have averaged 108 points over the last six games which is good news because points will be at a premium in this one. Look no further than the final score the last time these two met, an 89-87 Mavs victory.

DONUT 4: Key Mavs Stats: For all of the Celtics' defensive prowess, Dirk Nowitzki isn't impressed. In his last seven games against the green and white (since the Garnett trade), Dirk has averaged 28.3 points and 9.1 rebounds with 48 percent shooting. It's not just because his jumpshot is falling either, because he gets to the line 9.3 times a game vs. Boston.

DONUT 5: Tyson Chandler has been a monster all year, but even more so as of late. Over the last seven games, TY has averaged 16.9/10.3 and made a strong push for consideration at the center position for the upcoming All-Star Game. (It's not over as long as Yao is not dancing around.) Win or lose, I can guarantee that someone on the Celtics will get "Tyson'd."

When it was doom and gloom for the Mavs two weeks ago, all of the confidence and success the team had built seemed washed away. The stats beg to differ. Despite five straight road losses in January, Dallas still owns the second best road record in the league at 14-7. That's one game off the pace set by San Antonio's 16-6 and a shade ahead of Washington's 0-25.

DONUT 6: While we're at it, the Mavs' defense isn't so bad itself . Dallas is still second in the conference at 94.5 per game, ahead of usual defensive stalwarts such as the Lakers, Spurs, Thunder, and Trail Blazers. The Mavericks are ahead of last year's pace by 3 games and win number 33 (today's current win total) didn't come until February 17th during the 09-10 season.

See? All you need is a little perspective to understand that the Mavs will be OK. A little perspective and a little six-game win streak.

DONUT 7: Key Celtics Stats: Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce will be forever linked due to the 1998 NBA draft. They're also linked right here because of their respective seasons. Much like Dirk, Pierce is playing possibly the most efficient season of his career. Hovering near a career low in minutes at 34.4, he is shooting career highs from the field and from three at 51.2 percent and 42 percent respectively. With Rajon Rondo getting everybody involved (very well we might add with 12.5 assists per), efficiency becomes the name of the game for Boston. You can never understate the value of a former volume scorer reinventing himself as an efficiency expert in order to do what is best for the team. Players like Pierce are why the Celtics are able to play as the cohesive unit that they do.

DONUT 8: The Last Meeting: The Mavs planted their reputational seed as "streakbusters" after snapping Boston's early season five-game winning streak in Dallas on November 7 th. It was much needed as Dallas came to a crossroads at 2-2, coming off bad losses to the Grizzlies and Denver at home. The Mavs overcame a 15-assist game by Rondo by limiting the whole Boston team to only seven free throws and committing a season low 12 team fouls.

The Celtics allowed Dallas to shoot 50 percent on the night and let Jason Terry shake loose for 17 points and 4 assists. Dirk also had 25 points on 9-of-16 shooting, leading the way to the previously mentioned 89-87 victory. Shaq was out for that game as was Kendrick Perkins. Both should be available tonight.

Note: That was the first game of the year that DeShawn Stevenson started, sparking the Mavs to their 12-game win streak.

DONUT 9: The Mavs Locker Room: Things are going so well for the Mavs lately that Rick Carlisle was even lobbying publicly for Tyson Chandler to make the All-Star team and for Dirk as MVP. A 113-97 domination of the Knicks at Madison Square Garden will do that. Holding Amare Stoudemire scoreless in the second half and the strong defensive effort have the Mavs believing again.

"I think our defense has been going back to where we were in November-December," Nowitzki stated. "I think if you look at our effort defensively in the second half, that's what won us the game." That, and the 113 point offensive barrage. For the Mavs, it's as good a time as any to face the reigning Eastern Conference champs at their place.

By the way, it was all such a good time for the Mavs on Thursday in NY that the jackasses in the Garden were left having nothing to do but to boo children.

DONUT 10: The Celtics Locker Room: Easy does it for Boston. The veteran ball club knows what it takes to win a ring and they just want to make sure they're healthy when the playoffs come around. At least that's what they say, until competitiveness kicks in.

Tuesday's 95-90 win over the Sacramento Kings didn't completely sit well with Boston shooting guard Ray Allen. The usually quiet Allen ripped into his team at halftime while trailing the Kings by nine.

"It's funny. We knew we were messing up when Ray's the one yelling and screaming," Paul Pierce said.

Obviously, Boston turned up the heat a bit and pulled out their 37th win of the season.

With leaders like Garnett, Pierce, Allen, and Shaq, there's nothing this group hasn't seen before. They know when to push and when to let off the gas a little. They remember the last game against Dallas though. And you can bet they'll be tapping the accelerator a bit.

DONUT 11: Celtic of Note: Rajon Rondo is having a career year…to an extent. The fifth-year point guard out of Kentucky is throwing out nearly 13 dimes a game and ripping away 2.5 steals. He is the type of quick, water-bug guard that the Mavs have trouble with, so it will be interesting to see what adjustments are made. He can expect to see his share of Maverick zone, hopefully forcing him to shoot which where Rondo becomes a liability. He also is only connecting on 52 percent of his free throws this year. Rondo can look like an MVP when he is making plays and getting to the basket, but he can also disappear at important junctures of big games. MFFLs are hoping for the latter.

DONUT 12: Mav of Note: Dirk passed the 22,000 point threshold last game against New York. Of every person to ever play a minute in the NBA, only 24 players have at least that many points. Dirk is now one of them. We're sure he was selfishly well aware of this personal achievement.

"Really? I didn't even know that," said Dirk.

Of course he didn't.

"It's been a pretty sweet ride for me the last 13 years." Yeah. Us, too.

Smile

DONUT 13: Projected Lineups: Tip off at 7 p.m. The Celtics have C Kendrick Perkins back but he hasn't started yet as he eases back into the lineup. Other than Roddy B and Peja, the Mavs should have all hands on deck.

Celtics: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Shaquille O'Neal

Mavs: Jason Kidd, DeShawn Stevenson, Brian Cardinal, Dirk Nowitzki, Tyson Chandler

Oh, and let's not forget: at 6:30 on FS Southwest, it's Ro Blackman and our own Mike Fisher with the pregame (and later, the postgame) coverage of Mavs-at-Celtics!

Catch the Fish on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/FishSports and Kevin Brolan at www.Twitter.com/KevinBrolan ... When this stuff thaws, be ready for the best golf deal available: iDealGolfer.com offering The Old American for half-price! Click on in! … The Mavs are coming home Monday. Need tickets? Check out Ryan at MavCowTickets ... Come plow your way to ThreeSheets on Saturday for our Mavs-Watchin' Get-Together!


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