NBA Contenders: Dallas Mavericks at Atlanta Hawks — Preview, Odds

Dirk has taken a reduced load, but the Mavs are still 19 games above .500 in the rugged West.
Dirk has taken a reduced load, but the Mavs are still 19 games above .500 in the rugged West.

Dallas Mavericks at Atlanta Hawks
Time: 7:35 PM ET
Spread: ATL -6.5
Total: 201

Betting odds c/o Bookmaker

This is a showdown between two legitimate contenders and should be a good game. Early NBA live lines showed the Atlanta Hawks as 6.5 point favorites at home over the Dallas Mavericks, who come into the affair with a 19-11 SU record on the road. The total is set at 201 for this game, and for an explanation of NBA odds and how to bet these over/unders, click here.

The Dallas Mavericks have won three straight contests to pull within one game of No. 4 Portland for the right to have homecourt advantage in the first round of the NBA playoffs. Given that the Trail Blazers are especially dominant at home and mediocre on the road, this 4/5 matchup may swing in Dallas’ favor if it can claim the No. 4 spot in the West. Even so, the Blazers are guaranteed a home court spot by hanging onto the Northwest crown, which renders Dallas’ either having to pass No. 3 Houston or relegate itself to the 5/6 seeds.  The division champ rule keeps Portland at home.

The Hawks have already shown the West that it is a team to be feared if it can emerge from the Eastern Conference playoffs. Atlanta knocked off Golden State 124-116 on Feb 6 and is 15-4 SU against the Western Conference this season. The Hawks may not sport a lot of top end talent, but it plays well together as a team and has no shortage of options. The overwhelming sentiment that a Big two or Big three is necessary to compete in today’s NBA has been proven wrong in a way not seen since the Ben Wallace Pistons teams.

Atlanta is 25-4 SU at home this season and sent four players to the All-Star game. Paul Millsap has thrived in Atlanta, as the undersized 4-man leads the team in both scoring (16.9 points) and rebounding (8.1). Point guard Jeff Teague is not often given credit for being an elite floor general, but both his defensive metrics and offensive numbers suggest otherwise. The playmaker is tied for the highest PER on the team (21.7 with Al Horford) while averaging 16.8 points, 7.3 assists and 2.23 steals/blocks per game. Kyle Korver is shooting an unheard of 51 percent from behind the arc and is no longer a defensive blemish as he once was earlier in his career.

Horford is steady and consistent as a big man can be, and is a smart defensive player whose team defense goes a long ways towards keeping the Hawks as tough as they are on the defensive end of the court. Though the Hawks have gone just 4-5 over its last nine games, the defense still ranks 3rd in points allowed (96.8) and that will be the key to tonight’s game given that both teams are capable of putting up numbers.

Atlanta’s ball movement is second only to San Antonio’s in terms of efficiency and ranks 2nd in the NBA in assists per game, with the Hawks averaging 25.6 assists on 56 made field goals per game, also turning the ball over only 13.4 times per contest. The Hawks do so many of the small things well that it makes the lack of a superstar seem almost natural, and Teague is fully capable of isolating in late game situations to get buckets. Just because no Hawk has to play more than 33 minutes per game doesn’t mean this is a team deplete of star talent. Four semi-stars blended in the right balance are equally as good as two or three premier talents and a bench bereft of any difference makers.

Dallas, perplexingly, has not made the best use of point guard Rajon Rondo. The long-time Boston Celtic is struggling to adjust to life in Dallas, averaging just 28 minutes per game while posting a PER nearly four points below the league average (just 11.2). He’s dishing out only 6.2 assists per game, the penchant of Rondo’s strong play is not being maximized.

Part of this is because Monta Ellis is a high usage guard dependent on having the ball in his hands to score. And because Ellis is the primary source of Dallas’ offense, it has proven counterproductive to overly rely on Rondo’s creation. Dirk Nowitzki can get his shot off without the help of either guard, and Chandler Parsons picks and chooses his spots to score without needing a lot of plays called either.

Tyson Chandler and Amar’e Stoudemire, too, can find plenty of opportunistic buckets. This basically renders it a power struggle between Ellis and Rondo in the backcourt, and Ellis has both tenure and the early successes of this season to rely on keeping his role within the offense. Rondo is still coming up with 1.32 steals in his 28 minutes a game, but it seems that Dallas is not really getting what it bargained for when the team added the All-Star into the mix.

Chandler is questionable for this contest due to a hip flexor injury.

Parsons dubiously has been worth the contract he received, too, considering his play has still hovered at about average production for an NBA small forward. He’s also nursing a bone bruise on his left ankle which has held him out of the past two contests. Parsons is unlikely to return tonight, and there is no immediate timetable regarding his availability.

The Mavs are a strong team because it has a lot of depth and is well coached, but not because Nowitzki is the same player he was when the team won the 2010 Finals, nor because Ellis is capable of carrying a team through the postseason. In other words, there are a lot of questions that need to be answered in Dallas and it’s going to take more than a three-game win streak to inspire confidence in the loaded West. Defeating the Hawks tonight would be one bigger step towards doing so, but for a 39-20 team, it lacks a lot of the defining factors that seem to be indicative of championships squads.

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