The Dallas Mavericks and New York Knicks have been strange bedfellows the last few years. The team has swapped several players, beginning with the Kristaps Porziņģis trade, which was devastating for Knicks fans at the time but has since proved to be won in the Knicks' favor. The Mavs come into Madison Square Garden under .500, just like the Knicks, and tout former Knicks Tim Hardaway Jr., Theo Pinson, Reggie Bullock, Frank Ntilikina, and newly signed Kemba Walker. Mavs GM Nico Harrison is one of the worst front-office leaders in the league. Most of his tenure has consisted of scooping up washed and one-dimensional Knicks players.
But this game marks an even bigger occasion because it is the first game for Knicks star point guard Jalen Brunson to face off against the team that drafted him. On the Mavs, Brunson was the second-best player and a huge reason the team went on their Cinderella run to the Western Conference Finals. Behind Brunson’s steady hand and efficient scoring, the Mavs could rest Luka Dončić, as they did in the first-round matchup against the Utah Jazz when Dončić was injured, and still come out on top. That is no longer the case, as the team has needed every bit of Dončić’s historically high usage rate and more to squeeze out games against bad teams. Even worse, they’ve lost way too many close games to some of the worst teams in the NBA. Many of which were missing their best players. Their previous overtime loss on Thursday to the Detroit Pistons, the worst team in the NBA, was a season-low point.
Spencer Dinwiddie - It’s not often you see a team lose both sides of a trade, but that’s certainly the case with Porziņģis and the Mavs. When Harrison traded Porziņģis to the Washington Wizards last season, they traded one bad contract for two in Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans. Dinwiddie quickly played his way into value, providing the Mavs with a three-headed trio between him, Dončić, and Brunson. But Brunson is gone, and Dinwiddie has had to play the role of both the Mavs point guard and second-best player. But Dinwiddie is best as a shooting guard, not a primary ball-handler. Dinwiddie is the only player from last season’s primary rotation that has retained his worth. The Mavs will need a huge game from him, especially from the three-point line, to compete in this game.
Luka Dončić - What else is there to be said? Dončić is the favorite to win MVP and is on his way toward a legendary career. As long as the Mavs employ his services, they will have a chance to win any game they play. The problem is, with few assets, minimal draft capital, and a weak supporting cast, how much longer will that be?
Reggie Bullock - We meet again. Last season I really missed Bullock. He was a calm force on the floor and seemed to really understand and commit to Tom Thibodeau’s defensive schemes. With the Mavs, he was the perfect three-and-d starter last season and embodies the type of good-natured moral character the team has surrounded Dončić with since drafting him. Unfortunately, his shooting splits have dropped to grotesque numbers this season: 27.3% from three, and 29.9% from the field. Bullock has become one of the worst shooters and starters in the NBA. With the way he’s playing, he can stay his sorry ass in Dallas.
Dorian Finney-Smith - “Doe Doe” as he is affectionately called, has been doo doo this season. Once a solid three and d player, his shooting has been disgusting at 33.9% from three and 41.7% from the field. No player on this team has been overrated more than Finney Smith, Which is a shame because he is the glue to this team's on and off-the-court identity, but he could and should have been used in a trade this summer while his stock was at an all-time high for a real secondary star. His defense and shooting have both taken a dip, dropping his overall trade value and making it difficult for the Mavs to improve with the few assets they have,
Dwight Powell - This is the Mavs weakest position and has been for the entirety of the team’s existence. Similar to the Knicks and the point guard spot, the center position has been mostly filled with under-achieving, over-paid below-average players, save for Tyson Chandler during their 2011 championship run. Powell is a great locker-room force and the team's best short-roll big who plays hard defense, sets solid screens, and is a lob threat when playing with Dončić. But he brings nothing special to the starting unit, and the front office tried all summer to replace him with the specter of Javale McGee, their “star” off-season acquisition who has been so abysmal he is rendered unplayable. Mitchell Robinson should dominate.
Both teams need this win to reroute their season. There are many similarities between the two. Both employ a stubborn, arrogant head coach who refuses to change his philosophy, especially considering two of their most exciting players, Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin, for the Knicks and Josh Green and Christian Wood for the Mavs.
This will come down to a duel between Luka and Brunson and which team’s supporting cast can shoot better from three. Neither team is impressive defensively, but the Knicks are the better rebounding team, giving them a slight edge in this matchup. Since the KP trade, the Knicks have owned the Mavs. It’s one of the few teams the Knicks can claim any dominance over as of late—Knicks by 15.