Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:55 AM

Wednesday's Essentials

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Top Game – Celtics (-2/218.5) at Mavericks, 9:35 p.m.

The Mavs got about the most difficult task the schedule could possibly dream up on the heels of losing Luka Doncic to an ankle injury likely to keep him out a few weeks.

Go play the Bucks in Milwaukee on Monday with no practice scheduled on Sunday.

They only had an 18-game winning streak going and led the NBA in margin of victory, so yes, it’s stunning that as an 11-point underdog, Dallas not only won outright, but led most of the way. Building an edge of as many as 16 points, they held on for a 120-116 upset, overcoming a 48-point, 14-rebound night from Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Mavs became the first team in league history ever to end a streak of 15-plus victories without their leading scorer.

With Doncic now unlikely to be too adversely affected by an ankle sprain that looked absolutely dreadful when it took place on Saturday night in Milwaukee, Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle now has an opportunity to get the confidence of his supporting task up to speed in what might ultimately wind up being a blessing for a team that has unexpectedly elevated itself from being one of those teams that will be vying for one of those final playoff berths in the Western Conference to one being counted on to do finish top-six.

On that note, staying afloat without Doncic, who may be sidelined until the beginning of January, becomes imperative.

The Celtics arrive in Dallas to play what will end up being the penultimate home game the team will play at American Airlines Center in 2019. The Mavs will host the Spurs on Dec. 26 and play exclusively on the road for five of their remaining six of the calendar year following tonight’s contest.

They ironically have the NBA’s third-best record away from home (10-2) but are just 8-6 at the AAC, so it’s not exactly stunning that Boston would be favored given the absence of Dallas’ primary catalyst. The Mavs are 0-2 when not favored in their arena, suffering blowout losses at the hands of the Lakers and Clippers. The Celtics are a solid 7-6 SU on the road, winning five of their seven games when favored (3-3-1 ATS).

Boston still remains without Marcus Smart due to his eye infection and will miss his versatility on the defensive end. Center Robert Williams and power forward Robert Williams are also out for the Celtics, who did see Gordon Hayward return early last week but are in danger of losing a third straight game for the first time all season after falling at Indiana and suffering their first home loss against Philadelphia last Thursday. The Celtics should be fresh upon having ample practice time to regroup and refocus, but not getting Smart back after what was termed “a miserable week” for him by head coach Brad Stevens is unfortunate. 7-foot-6 Tacko Fall, the only player in the league bigger than Mavs’ 7-foot-4 reserve center Boban Marjanovic, might get called up to the active roster.

The Celtics return home for four of their next five games following this one, playing the Raptors twice. A single game separates Philly, Toronto and Boston in the Atlantic Division.

Dallas’ upset of Milwaukee kept it ahead of the Rockets in the Southwest despite Houston’s 26-point comeback win over the Spurs. Road games against the 76ers and Raps are up next for the Mavs, but this should be the only game where they’re not catching at least six or seven points as an underdog.

Almost immediately after it was revealed that Doncic had avoided a significant injury, Kristaps Porzingis, the team’s lone maximum salary player who has embraced his role as a No. 2 as he works his way back from the ACL injury that ended his tenure with the Knicks, was asked about his new role. Would the same player who averaged over 22 points per game and was dubbed “Unicorn” while making the All-Star team emerge?

Porzingis scored 26 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and hit half of his 3-point attempts in leading the way against the Bucks. That’s a pretty definitive answer. Dallas passed the first challenge of an extremely tough two-week stretch consisting of six road games it has to play between now and the start of 2020.

The Mavs may not have Doncic for any of them, and while ending the league’s longest sustained run of success this season as an 11-point underdog sets a high bar, you can see why this might end up proving beneficial.

Porzingis’ confidence is likely to receive a significant boost. Delon Wright, languishing on the bench after a hot start while still working his way back from an ankle injury, played his best game in weeks. Jalen Brunson finished with 18 points, seven boards and eight assists to aid the comeback bid against Miami and remained in the playmaker role against the Bucks, finishing with 13 points and a league-high 11 assists. J.J. Barea, taking his time in returning from an Achilles tear last January, can start earning more minutes. Seth Curry matched Porzingis with 26 points and four 3-pointers, helping overcome the fact Hardaway shot 1-for-10.

That Dallas beat the Bucks on a night when the guy they envisioned carrying a lot of the scoring burden shot so poorly tells you just how much depth there is for Carlisle to work with. They’ll look to keep Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Howard from proving overwhelming, but not having to deal with Smart will certainly aid the cause since he’s terrorized Porzingis in the past and is capable of disrupting the rhythm of most playmakers.

This total is the largest involving the Celtics since the number closed at 227 for their Nov. 18 visit to Phoenix 11 games ago. The ‘under’ is 4-3 in Boston games that close with a total higher than 218. Dallas has lost six of the past seven games in the series but won its only home game against the Celtics on Nov. 24, 2018. Boston won the first meeting this season on Nov. 11, overcoming Doncic’s 34 points in a 116-106 triumph at TD Garden. Walker led the way with 29 points and an 8-for-14 effort from 3-point range as the C’s went 15-for-35 from beyond the arc. This game will air on ESPN.

Best of the Rest

Heat at 76ers (-2/210.5), 7:10 p.m. ET: Jimmy Butler hopes this return goes better than the first matchup, a 113-86 setback where his Heat managed just 13 first-quarter points. That loss came on the second night of a back-to-back, so the Heat should at least be better-rested despite coming off a disappointing loss in Memphis on Monday where it surrendered 118 or more points in a third straight game for the first time all season. Josh Richardson torched his former team with 32 points on 11-for-15 shooting and will suit up here. Philadelphia is expected to have Joel Embiid back from his upper respiratory illness and saw him get the better of reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week Bam Adebayo in the first meeting. The 76ers will be as healthy as they’ve been all season if Embiid suits up. Miami remains without starting wing Justise Winslow, sixth man Goran Dragic and key reserve forward James Johnson.

Grizzlies at Thunder (-6.5/219), 8:10 p.m. ET: Don’t look now, but Memphis has won four of five and is starting to get nightly greatness from Rookie of the Year frontrunner Ja Morant in addition to more consistency out of power forward Jaren Jackson, Jr. and center Jonas Valanciunas. Although the Griz may not enjoy many stretches like the one they’re currently embarked upon where they’ve won four of five, their run hasn’t been smoke and mirrors. The same can be said about the Chris Paul-led Thunder now that he fully has his clutches in the group and appears invested. Paul refused to let them lose to Chicago in producing a dramatic comeback win where he took the game completely over to ensure a five-game homestand that sees the Grizzlies come through twice gets off to a good start. Expect the matchup between a future Hall of Fame point guard and the latest gem to come into the league to produce some highlights. While the high side has prevailed in Memphis’ last three games, the ‘under’ is 4-1 over its last five road contests.

Magic at Nuggets (-9.5/203), 9:10 p.m. ET: A bench-led flurry turned a double-digit deficit into an unexpected fourth-quarter lead for the Magic in Utah on Tuesday, but an inability to close out to shooters and execute offensively down the stretch led to them failing to even cover the 6.5-point spread. Jonathan Isaac, the NBA’s top shot blocker, didn’t have his usual energy while center Nikola Vucevic and shooting guard Evan Fournier, Orlando’s top scorers, struggled to find the range. They’ll be playing their fourth back-to-back of the season and the Nuggets are the beneficiary for the second time, having won 91-87 on Nov. 2 at Amway Center after Orlando had hosted Milwaukee the previous night. The Magic are 1-2 SU on the second night but 2-0-1 ATS. If the number remains where it is, this will be the second-highest spread they’ll be saddled with all season, having covered at the Bucks as a 13-point underdog on Dec. 9. Denver is 3-0 on its current five-game homestand and is 11-3 at Pepsi Center on the season, coming in with a 7-7 ATS mark.

Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA or e-mail him at [email protected]

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