DALLAS MAVERICKS (22-34)
at MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES (22-35)
Tip-off: Friday, 8:00 p.m. ET
Line: Minnesota -3.5, Total: 203
The Mavericks will be looking to earn a victory in their first game with the newly-acquired Nerlens Noel on Friday.
Mavericks fans saw their team transform on Thursday’s trade deadline, and the reaction appeared to be overwhelmingly positive. Dallas traded second-year SG Justin Anderson, C Andrew Bogut and a draft pick to Philadelphia for PF Nerlens Noel. The Mavericks have won eight of their last 13, and the addition of Noel is unquestionably a step in the right direction. The pick in question is a top-18 protected first-rounder, so a successful run at the eight seed would likely mean surrendering a pick in a loaded draft. At 22-34 (30-26 ATS), Dallas is currently three games out of the eight seed, 12th in the Western Conference standings and has the 24th-best record in the NBA. They’ll retake the floor post-All-Star break on Friday night in Minneapolis, where they’ll match up with a Wolves team that, despite plenty of rumors, walked away from the trade deadline with an unchanged roster. The Timberwolves ended the pre-ASB portion of their season with a near-identical record as Dallas, only half a game worse at 22-35 (24-33 ATS). They had won five of seven games before losing SG Zach LaVine to a season-ending ACL tear against Detroit on Feb. 3, and have gone 3-4 in the games following the injury. Since 1996 in games played 42+ games into the year, favorites of 3.5 to 9.5 points that shoot between 45.5 and 47.5% from the field and turn the ball over no more than 14.5 times per game (MIN) are 158-103 ATS against teams shooting between 43.5 and 45.5% and forcing between 14.5 and 16.5 turnovers per game. Over the last five seasons, February games involving a team coming off an upset win as an underdog—the Wolves won 112-99 as 6.5-point underdogs in Denver on Feb. 15—are 78-37 Under against the total.
Dallas entered the All-Star break with the seventh-worst offensive efficiency rating in the league, as they put up only 106.2 points per 100 possessions. They’re a little better on defense, allowing 108.7 points per 100 possessions (t-16th in NBA). In averaging 91.7 possessions per 48 minutes, the Mavs play the second-slowest pace in the league. C Nerlens Noel (8.9 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 0.9 BPG) should greatly impact this Dallas team. Noel might not be much offensively, but he is regarded as one of the better rim protectors in basketball. That should make him a great fit next to PF Dirk Nowitzki (13.9 PPG, 6.0 RPG) in bigger lineups, but also SF Harrison Barnes (20.1 PPG, 5.2 RPG). Nowitzki’s defensive deficiencies could be masked a bit with Noel behind him, and the team will be at its best on both ends when it goes small. That’s something that might benefit the Mavericks on Friday, as they will not beat the Timberwolves with their bigs on the floor. The Mavericks will, however, need some good guard play in this one. That means that guys like SG Wesley Matthews (15.3 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 1.1 SPG), PG Yogi Ferrell (14.2 PPG, 4.6 APG, 1.5 SPG) and SG Seth Curry 911.7 PPG, 1.2 SPG) are going to need to get hot here.
As they headed into the break, the T-Wolves ranked 10th in the league with an offensive efficiency rating of 110.2 points scored per 100 possessions. Things weren’t so great on D, where they allow 111.2 points per 100 possessions (24th in NBA). Despite their youth, they play at the fourth-slowest pace in the league at 94.5 possessions per 48 minutes. (You can largely blame coach Tom Thibodeau for that.) The two players that will need to be on their games on Friday are PF Karl-Anthony Towns (23.7 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 1.4 BPG) and SF Andrew Wiggins (23.2 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 2.5 APG). Towns was playing great heading into the All-Star break, averaging 27.4 PPG, 11.2 RPG and 2.4 APG in 37.4 MPG in his past five games. He’ll need to put on a performance similar to those on Friday and he should be able to do that. Wiggins, meanwhile, averaged 40.5 PPG in the two games before the break. He seems to have finally realized his potential for the Timberwolves, and he’ll need to put together a strong finish to the season. Minnesota might not make the playoffs, but the team can build some serious momentum heading into next year.