Free throws have been especially costly this season for the Dallas Mavericks, who host the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday.
Dallas is 14-13 while shooting just 72.7 percent from the foul line, which ranks 29th in the league. Memphis is the only team with a lower percentage (70.2).
“Literally, we’d probably have five more wins if we could shoot free throws,” Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said. “Easily. It’s just the way it goes. We went through the same things early last year and for some reason it’s been an Achilles heel.”
Dallas showed some improvement in its last game, a 121-114 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday. The Mavericks snapped a two-game losing skid while making 21 of 25 (84 percent) from the foul line.
Luka Doncic returned after missing one game to rest his right quad contusion and tallied 38 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists, while Spencer Dinwiddie recorded his first double-double of the season with 20 points and 10 assists.
Doncic has opened the season by scoring at least 20 points in 34 straight games, matching Mark Aguirre’s 1983-84 Mavericks record.
The Mavericks have won seven of the past eight meetings against Cleveland. They will face the Cavs twice in the next four days, as Dallas hosts Portland on Friday before starting a four-game road trip Saturday in Cleveland.
The Cavaliers are looking to bounce back from a surprising 112-111 loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Monday.
Donovan Mitchell scored 28 points to lead the Cavaliers, while Caris LeVert added 23 points, Darius Garland had 18, and Evan Mobley contributed 17 points and 13 rebounds.
The loss was Cleveland’s first this season to a team currently more than a half-game below .500.
“We played their record and not the team,” Mitchell said. “They are a talented group. When they get going, they get comfortable, and we didn’t respect that coming out and that’s on us. That can’t happen.”
Mitchell is averaging 29 points on 49.6 percent shooting, with 41.9 percent from 3-point range — all career bests.
Cleveland’s league-leading defense is allowing 105.1 points per game with small forward Lamar Stevens a key part of the effort. The third-year pro is averaging 6.7 points and 3.7 rebounds.
“He’s a huge part of what we’ve done and what we’ve started to build here, just from a personality standpoint and spirituality,” Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “He’s got that mentality and even when he wasn’t playing, he kind of impressed it on others to go out and play with that scrappy mentality, that underdog mentality. He’s hungry out there, and you can feel it.”
Stevens has moved into the starting lineup ahead of LeVert, who is settling in nicely as the team’s sixth man. LeVert has scored at least 20 points in three consecutive games.
Cleveland’s defensive gameplan will understandably focus on Doncic, but guard Tim Hardaway Jr. remains a consistent threat from the perimeter.
Now in his 10th season, Hardaway has made at least five 3-pointers in six of his last eight games. He is averaging 20.3 points over that eight-game stretch while shooting 46.5 percent from beyond the arc.
The Cavaliers are 5-9 on the road compared to 12-2 at home.
Mavericks reserve guard Josh Green has missed the past two games with a sprained right elbow and is listed as day-to-day.
–Field Level Media