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Celtics look for series sweep as Mavs come to visit

The Celtics welcome the Mavericks to the Garden as they look to sweep the series for the second straight year.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks make their only trip to Boston this season for the 2nd and final meeting between these two teams. The Celtics beat the Mavericks 110-102 on November 20 in Dallas. The Celtics needed a late rally to tie the game and send it into overtime. Kyrie Irving had 47 points to lead the Celtics to their 16th straight win.

The Celtics are 11-2 at home while the Mavericks are 2-7 on the road. The Celtics have won 3 straight while the Mavericks have won their last 2. The Celtics are 7-0 vs Western Conference teams and the Mavs are 2-5 vs the East. The Mavs are 5-5 in their last 10 games while the Celtics are 8-2 in their last 10. The Mavs are in last place in the West but 2 Eastern teams (Hawks, Bulls) have worse records than them.

The Celtics have won the last 3 games between these two teams, including a sweep last season. Before those 3 Celtics wins, Dallas won 11 of the previous 12 games. Six of the last eight games between them have been decided by 8 or fewer points. Dirk Nowitzki has averaged 25.5 points per game in 35 career games vs the Celtics, which is his highest average against any team in the league.

The Celtics are without Gordon Hayward, who is out for the season with an ankle injury. It was also announced that Marcus Morris will miss this game for "knee rehabilitation." I'm not sure if that's for rest or if his balky knee is acting up again. Also, Jaylen Brown is a late scratch with an inflamed eye. For the Mavericks, Seth Curry (tibia), Dorian Finney-Smith (knee), and Josh McRoberts (leg) are all expected to be out of this game. Nerlens Noel is questionable with a thumb injury, but has been given very little playing time even when he is healthy.

The Mavericks start the same 5 as they did in the last game between these two teams. When these two teams met in Dallas, the Celtics started Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Morris, and Al Horford. With Morris being reported out for tonight's game, I'll guess that Brad will stick with the lineup with Baynes at center. However, he did start Daniel Theis in one game against the Bucks and he may go that route again. The Celtics are 10-1 when Baynes starts and 1-0 when Theis starts. I’m guessing that Marcus Smart will start in Brown’s place.

The Cavaliers have won 12 straight games and are playing in Sacramento on Wednesday, which should be another win for them. They are just 3.5 games behind the Celtics and so the Celtics have to win games like this one that they should win to keep pace with the Cavs, who are playing very well recently.

Probable Celtics Starters

PG: Kyrie Irving
SG: Marcus Smart
SF: Jayson Tatum
PF: Al Horford
C: Aron Baynes

Celtics Reserves
Shane Larkin
Abdel Nader
Semi Ojeleye
Daniel Theis
Guerschon Yabusele
Terry Rozier

Gordon Hayward (ankle) out
Marcus Morris (knee) out
Jaylen Brown (eye) out

Two Way Players
Kadeem Allen
Jabari Bird

Head Coach
Brad Stevens

Probable Mavericks Starters

PG: Dennis Smith, Jr
SG: Wesley Matthews
SF: Harrison Barnes
PF: Maxi Kleber
C: Dirk Nowitzki

Mavs Reserves
JJ Barea
Yogi Ferrell
Salah Mejiri
Dwight Powell
Jeff Withey

Seth Curry (leg) out
Dorian Finney-Smith (knee) out
Josh McRoberts (knee) out
Nerlens Noel (thumb) questionable

Two Way Players
Antonius Cleveland
Johathan Motley

Head Coach
Rick Carlisle

Key Matchups

Jayson Tatum vs Harrison Barnes

NBA: Boston Celtics at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Barnes is averaging a team best 18.5 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 2.0 assists. In the first game between these two teams Barnes scored 31 points and so Jayson has to stay with Barnes on defense to prevent another big game from him. Jaylen has been on a tear offensively and needs to make Barnes work on the defensive end as well.

Kyrie Irving vs Dennis Smith, Jr

NBA: Boston Celtics at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Dennis Smith has been playing well and has been mentioned in Rookie of the Year conversations. Smith is averaging 14.5 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.2 assists and Kyrie should win this matchup easily, though. Kyrie had 47 points in their first meeting and hopefully will have another big game in this one.

Honorable Mention
Al Horford vs Dirk Nowitzki

Boston Celtics v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Dirk has lost a step from when he was in his prime but he is still a very dangerous player and he loves playing the Celtics. In their first game this season he had 14 points and 12 rebounds. He is averaging 11.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 1.8 assists. Even if Baynes starts at center Al should match up with him on defense as Baynes may struggle to keep up with him on the perimeter.

Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense wins games. The Celtics have a defensive rating of 99.1, which is the best in the league. The Mavericks' defensive rating is 106.0 (24th). The Celtics have let their defense slip in recent games, allowing 6 of their last 8 opponents to reach at least 100 points. If the Celtics come out with their normal lock down defense, they should get a win in this one. They have to be careful not to let up on defense, thinking that the Mavs won't score on them. They have to continue to make defense a priority.

Rebound - Much of rebounding is effort and the Celtics have to put out extra effort to win the battle of the boards. When they work hard on the boards, it usually follows through to the rest of the game as well. The Celtics are averaging 45.0 rebounds per game while the Mavs are averaging 42.2 rebounds per game. The Celtics need to continue to crash the boards as a team.

Be Aggressive - The Celtics need to be the more aggressive team in going to the basket, diving for loose balls, going after 50/50 balls, grabbing rebounds, and just playing harder in general. They have to be the team that wants the win more. The more aggressive team will usually get the benefit of questionable calls and so the Celtics need to be sure that they are more aggressive on both ends of the court.

Take Care of the Ball - The Celtics need to move the ball and find the open man but they also need to make careful passes so as not to turn the ball over. They turned the ball over 17 times in the first game against the Mavericks and it almost cost them the game as it took OT to get the win. They have to keep their focus and avoid costly turnovers that could lead to easy points for the Mavs.

Home Game - The Celtics are playing in the final game of a 5 game home stand and should get a boost from the home crowd cheering them on. Hopefully the hostile crowd will throw the Mavs off and give the Celtics the home court advantage.

Don't Be Over Confident - The Celtics can't underestimate the Mavericks in spite of their record. In spite of their record, the Mavs have improved considerably since they last met and in that game, they gave the Celtics all they could handle. In the last 6 games 79.1 which ranks ninth in the NBA during that span. They have also limited the impact of opposing teams generating easy points off turnovers. The Mavs have quality wins over some playoff teams. If the Celtics let up and think they can win with less than full effort, they are likely to join the Bucks, Thunder and Wizards as victims of the Mavs.

Revenge Factor - The Mavs played better than the Celtics for long stretches of the last game between them. But, the Celtics fought back at the end and forced overtime and then were able to pull away in OT for the win. That game started the Mavs on a course of playing much better. They will likely come into this game thinking that they can steal one here and even the series. The Celtics need to come out strong and play hard for 48 minutes or the Mavs may just get their revenge.