Preview: Kings at Mavericks

THE SCOUTING REPORT

Here's HighTops:

The Kings have a huge task ahead of them tonight. Not only do they have to beat Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd, but they also have to beat Mark Cuban and his checkbook.

Cubans’ stars were aging and as the years pile on, the odds of winning a championship dwindled.  Erick Dampier and his 35-year-old knees were experiencing lingering problems, and the Mavs had no true backup center. Along with Dampier every player in the starting line-up had been in the league at least 10 years. And so Cuban did the only thing he could: he opened the checkbook, spent more money, and tried to buy a championship while he still could.

The Mavs took advantage of Washington’s garage sale, and sent forward Josh Howard, center Drew Gooden, forward James Singleton and guard Quinton Ross to the Wizards for forward Caron Butler, center Brendan Haywood, guard DeShawn Stevenson and cash. Washington was looking for cap space and Howard’s contract had a team option in 2011, Gooden and Singleton were expiring contracts, while Ross had a player option next year for $1.1M. Butler, Haywood and Stevenson made $19M this year and were owed $14.7M next season. So, the Wizards save $1.5M off this years salary cap and they saved $13.5M in salary next year if they don’t exercise Howard’s option.

The deal sent Dallas’ salary to $87.7M this year and $86.6M next year, but Haywood is an UFA next season, so to resign him the Mavs will go way over $ 90 million next season. The deal didn’t make the team any younger either. Butler is 30, Haywood is 31, and Stevenson is 29, but of the three Stevenson has the most years in the league with nine because he entered the league right out of high school. So, right now, Dallas has only two players under the age of 30: Jose Barea is 26 and Rodrigue Beaubois is 22, and Beaubois is the only player on the team acquired by Dallas through the draft; everyone else was signed as a FA or through trades.

The trade has worked out better than Cuban could have imagined. In the first game after the trade Dampier dislocated his finger and required surgery, and isn’t expected back until mid-March. After losing that game Dallas has won nine straight for the first time since March 2007 and they’ve won six straight at home. They are currently 2nd in the West at 41-21, and have a home record of 21-9.

Butler has started all 10 games for Dallas at SG, and is averaging 18.1 pts, 5.2 rbs, 2.8 asts, and 1.8 steals while shooting 43.7% the field and 14.3% from three.

Brendan Haywood has started nine games and is averaging 10.5 pts and 9.7 rbs on 59.4% shooting with 2.4 blocks per game.

The Mavs started February 2-3 but have gone 9-1 since the trade. They’re scoring 101 ppg on 47.3% from the field and 35.2% from threes. Their rebounds are low at 40.4 rpg and their blocks are low at 4.8 bpg. Defensively, they’ve held seven of the last 10 teams to below 100 pts, including the Lakers, Miami, Orlando and Phoenix.

Jason Terry, the backup PG and Dallas’s 2nd leading scorer at 17 ppg, was hurt in Wednesday’s game against Minnesota and is scheduled for facial surgery and is out indefinitely. JJ Barea, DeShawn Stevenson, and Rodrigue Beaubois will fill his role off the bench. Jason Kidd, who was given Wednesday’s game off to rest, should be back at the starting PG spot.

Shawn Marion with 11.4 ppg and 6.5 rpg on .500 from the field, and Nowitzki with 25.2 ppg and 7.7 rbg on 47.9% shooting complete the front line. It is unknown whether Dirk will return Carl Landry’s teeth before the game.

The Kings are already 0-2 against the Mav’s this season, averaging 96.5 pts on 46% shooting and 35% from beyond the arc. The Kings lost the 1st game Nov. 20th in Dallas 102-104. All the starters scored in double figures except Hawes, and the backcourt of Evans and Udrih combined for 49 points. Kenny Thomas had 0 pts and 7 rebounds and Omri Casspi had 9 pts and 4 rebounds off the bench. Dampier, Howard, and Marion all missed the game due to injuries.

The second game was in Sacramento on Jan. 2nd and the Kings lost 99-91. Barea and Kidd out dueled Evans and Udrih, 31 pts and 10 asts to 24 pts and 7 asts. Casspi started and ended up with 22 pts, 11 rebs and 4 assts. But Dallas’ bench of Howard, Terry and Gooden combined for 35 pts and 17 rebs, to outscore the Kings’ bench, which had 21 pts and 10 rebs.

While with the Wizards, Haywood had 24 rebounds and 5 blocks against the Kings and was the leading rebounder in both games. JT was the leading rebounder for the series for the Kings with 19. Spencer only played 8 minutes off the bench in the first game, but was the leading rebounder for the Kings in the 2nd game with seven. Butler averaged 18 pts and 7 rebounds at the SF, against Casspi.

With two 7-footers and Marion, the Mavs frontline is averaging 24 rpg. With JT still out it’s hard to see Spencer, Landry and Dorsey winning the battle of the boards. The Kings have failed to score more than 92 points in four of their six games since the trade deadline. So the Kings may have to rely on defense to pull this one out. Omri and Donte have lost their early season shooting eye, forcing Westphal to play Ime in spite of his poor shooting because he’s the better defender.  But most troubling is Tyreke shooting 11 of 39 so far on this road trip, and only 9 pts on 22 shots against the Rockets. He was blocked five times against a team that doesn’t have shot blockers and he put up four three-point shots even though he’s shooting 24% from three. If Evans can’t involve his teammates more often before he attacks the rim, then defenses will continue to pack the paint and deny his path to the basket.   

Whether Cuban got his money's worth won’t be known until after the playoffs, but for now he might have bought himself a victory over the Kings.

THE KEY BATTLE

Jason Kidd vs. Tyreke Evans. Kidd is big for a point guard, and has help with the strong Butler and Marion, but Evans should still be looking to break out of his mini-slump with an efficient night. Working off the ball could help -- when Evans dribbles, help defenders have a good idea he'll be heading their way. Letting Udrih or Hawes initiate the offense could relieve some of that.

On the other end, the Kings have to close out on Kidd on the pass out. He'll hit them open threes. With Terry injured, keeping Kidd from going nuts seems like a good plan.

BOLD PROCLAMATION

J.J. Barea will break off a "hippity hop to the barber shop."

DETAILS

5:30 PM PT start. Game threads at 5:30 and 6:45, post-gamer at 8:15.

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