Philadelphia (49-30) overtook Cleveland for the third spot in the East with a wild 132-130 victory over the Cavaliers on Friday night for their 13th consecutive victory. The 76ers lead the Cavaliers by one-half game with three to play and would be assured of finishing no worse than fourth in the East with a victory in this game.
Rookie Ben Simmons had 27 points, 15 rebounds and 13 assists for his seventh triple-double during this winning streak and 12th overall. The 13-game run is Philadelphia’s longest since reeling off 14 straight wins from December 21, 1982 to January 21, 1983, en route to their last NBA title.
Dallas (24-56) have dropped back-to-back games and ten of their last 12 overall after a 113-106 overtime loss at Detroit on Friday night. Rookie Jonathan Morley, a recent call-up from the G League, had season highs of 26 points and 12 rebounds, but the Pistons held the Mavericks without a field goal for the final 2:34 of the extra period and closed the game on an 8-1 tear.
The Mavericks will finish with their worst record since going 20-62 in the 1997/98 season and will miss the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since a ten-year drought from 1991 to 2000.
Three keys to the game
Simmons can score - The only knock on Simmons is the fact he does not have a consistent jumper and has hit only 36.1 percent of his mid-range shots. However, it really does not matter much in the grand scheme of things considering Simmons has a 66.8 shooting percentage when finishing at the rim along with the fact he gets to the rim almost at will.
All 12 of his baskets against Cleveland came on shots from ten feet and closer, and he only took one shot from beyond ten feet. The 27 points were his most since a 32-point outburst against Chicago on February 22.
Motley gets Cuban stamp of approval - The Mavericks, like most teams out of the playoff race, have been spending most of March and April looking at their younger players to see who they can build around going forward. Motley was one of the best G League players, averaging 22.2 points and 9.7 rebounds for the Texas Legends and delivered a clutch 3-pointer to force overtime Friday night.
After the game, owner Mark Cuban jokingly referred to him as "Karl Mot-lone" according to the Dallas Morning News as Motley more than held his own against Pistons center Andre Drummond.
The $23 million man showing his worth - The 76ers had so much cap space from "the process" that they had no worry shelling out $23 million to J. J. Redick, who appeared to be tailor-made for Philadelphia's offense with Simmons wreaking havoc for spot-up shooters while providing veteran leadership.
He has hit another gear during this winning streak, averaging 18.4 points over the 13 games while shooting 41.4 percent from 3-point range. Redick also made two critical treys late Friday night when the 76ers were hanging on for dear life as they nearly squandered a 30-point lead.
Matchup to watch
PG Dennis Smith Jr. vs PG Ben Simmons - Most seasons, averages of 15.1 points, 5.1 assists and 3.8 rebounds as a rookie would get notice and acclaim. But on the rebuilding Mavericks, Dennis Smith Jr. has mainly got nods of approval without the rave reviews as he will be one of the cornerstones going forward in the twilight of Dirk Nowitzki's career.
He will get his chance to prove his worth against Simmons, who is just operating on another level in his delayed rookie season and overall. And lost in the way he effortlessly directs the offense is his defense. Simmons had four steals against the Cavaliers and has offset over two-thirds of his 35 turnovers during this winning streak by recording 24 steals.
Dallas Mavericks projected starting lineup
PG - Dennis Smith Jr. | SG - Dorian Finney-Smith | C - Dwight Powell | SF - Harrison Barnes | PF - Jonathan Morley
Philadelphia 76ers projected starting lineup
PG - Ben Simmons | SG - J. J. Redick | C - Amir Johnson | SF - Robert Covington | PF - Dario Saric
Smith has averaged 15.7 points and 7.0 assists in his last seven games, hitting 40 percent of his 3-point shots. He struggled in Detroit, making just two of 12 shots, but has totaled 17.0 points and 5.3 assists per game in his last ten on the road.
Smith had 12 points and eight assists in the first game between the teams, a 112-110 home loss October 28, but he also committed six turnovers.
Through attrition and personnel moves, Harrison Barnes has become a steady option in the frontcourt for the Mavericks and has averaged 21.0 points and 4.8 rebounds in his last 18 games. Barnes hit seven 3-pointers and scored 25 points in the first game between the teams, lifting his career average against Philadelphia to 10.8 points in ten matchups.
Simmons has put up gaudy numbers during this winning streak, averaging 14.6 points, 11.1 assists, and 10.3 rebounds. But the two statistics that really stand out are his 4.11 assist-to-turnover ratio in this run while shooting a ridiculous 60.4 percent from the floor.
He played a vital role in the win at Dallas in October, totaling 23 points, eight assists, seven rebounds and three steals against just one turnover while making ten of 15 shots.
When Redick goes to the bench, Marco Belinelli makes sure there is no drop-off on the perimeter. He went six of 12 from 3-point range Friday night and scored 23 points, continuing an impressive run in which he has averaged 16.8 points in his last 11 games while hitting 46.2 percent of his long-range shots.
Belinelli played the Mavericks twice this season while with the Atlanta Hawks, scoring 20 in one contest but only two in the other. He has averaged 9.3 points in 28 lifetime games versus Dallas, shooting 36.4 percent from 3-point range.
The 76ers are 13-point favorites for this game, with the line moving 1.5 points in their favor since its open. They have covered in their last four home games versus Dallas and are trying to extend a trend that in which the home teams have covered in seven of the previous eight meetings overall.
Philadelphia have covered in ten of their last 11 games overall and in five straight at home against teams with a sub-.400 winning percentage on the road. The 76ers are also 17-5 against the spread in their last 22 home games versus teams with a losing record and 24-9-2 in their last 35 outings against Southwest Division teams.
Dallas have failed to cover in their last four road games and in their last five versus Eastern Conference teams. The Mavericks, though, are 11-4-1 against the number in their last 16 road games against teams with a home winning percentage above .600.
The over/under is 215.5, and the under has trended in this series, hitting in seven of the last ten meetings. The under is 9-4 in Dallas' last 13 road games against teams with a winning percentage at home over .600 and 3-1-1 in Philadelphia's last five contests at home against teams with a sub-.400 road winning percentage.
The over, though, is 6-2 in Philadelphia's last eight games against Southwest Division teams.
Depending on how far the 76ers go in the playoffs, Friday night's win over Cleveland could be viewed as a touchstone. It was not a game Philadelphia had to win, but it became a game they needed to win because blowing a 30-point lead and losing would weigh heavily on the mind of a young team in the week before the playoffs.
So a win makes everything all right, and it can be now viewed as gutting out a victory in adversity given how LeBron James and Jeff Green tore apart the 76ers defense in the second half. That makes the challenge for this game guarding against a letdown.
The 76ers have won all five games since losing Embiid, in part due to a favorable schedule and in part because different players are stepping up around Simmons. Lately it has been Reddick and Belinelli though the tandem of Amir Johnson and Richaun Holmes replacing Embiid at center are also doing understated work.
For the Mavericks, it is about examining their young players. Motley has had two good games, can he do it again? Can Smith rise to the challenge of facing Simmons? Can players like Dorian Finney-Smith and Yogi Ferrell continue to carve out roles for themselves? These are all questions coach Rick Carlisle is trying to get answers to as the Mavericks figure out the direction of rebuild.
It would not be surprising to see Philadelphia start slowly before hitting their stride and finding the gear that will separate themselves from the Mavericks. The winning streak will hit 14 as the 76ers will reach 50 wins for the first time since winning the Eastern Conference with a 56-26 record in 2000/01 with a 112-101 victory.
The game will be televised nationally in the U.S. and Canada on NBA TV and locally on Fox Sports Southwest and NBC Sports Philadelphia. Tip-off time is 1 pm EDT.
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