Programming note: Warriors-Mavericks coverage tips off tonight at 7 p.m. with Warriors Pregame Live on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area (territory restrictions apply)
OAKLAND – The subplot will be very much sub on Tuesday night when the Warriors and Mavericks take the floor at Oracle Arena.
That the evening will feature another return visit from popular ex-Warrior Monta Ellis is insignificant relative to the implications of the game itself.
It's the current No. 6 seed in the Western Conference, the Warriors (40-24), playing well and closing in on a playoff berth, versus the Mavericks (38-26), who are clinging to the No. 7 spot.
It's two teams making the final turn of the season, racing toward the same prize.
“They're playing well right now and, obviously, every game we play against those teams bunched up in the west are huge, big games for us – especially when you're playing at home,” Warriors point guard Stephen Curry said.
“We know what to expect with Dirk (Nowitzki) and Monta. We've just got to stick with our game plan of being the hardest working team.”
That formula, reasserted after All-Star Weekend, has worked well. The Warriors have won nine of 11 games and the last four in a row. They're gaining confidence, too. Asked if the goal on Tuesday was to put some distance between his team and the Mavericks, Warriors coach Mark Jackson went beyond merely answering the question.
“We don't look at those teams behind us,” he said. “We're looking at game by game and trying to handle our business. It's a good situation we're in right now. We're playing good basketball. We're in a good place and we want to continue it.
“Obviously, the Mavs are a well-coached, good basketball team with weapons. It's important for us to continue with the same mindset and take advantage of an opportunity in our own building.”
The Warriors are in this position largely because they traded Ellis to Milwaukee two years ago in exchange for center Andrew Bogut, who provides an interior presence the team had lacked for a generation. Ellis became a free agent last year, leaving the Bucks to sign with Dallas.
Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle says Ellis has been a “godsend.” He 's settled in at shooting guard, is posting solid numbers and says he's happier than he's been at any time since he was a young Warrior in 2007.
There is no residual bitterness toward the Warriors, certainly not at this stage.
“I closed that chapter a long time ago,” Ellis told reporters in Dallas on Monday. “The only thing I can say that I love (about) going back is the appreciation the fans show me. That's it.”
The Warriors, who have revamped their roster, also are past the Return-of-Monta subplot.
“At this point, he's kind of moved on,” Curry said. “He's happy where he's at. Same with us.”
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Klay Thompson vs. Ellis. Ellis is having a very good season, settling into his role with the team. He's still explosive and quick off the dribble, but Thompson's length should cause problems. Monta cannot guard Klay.
David Lee vs. Nowitzki. Even though Nowitzki is in a mini-slump, he's always dangerous and a matchup nightmare. Lee likely will split the job with Draymond Green, the kind of pest that bothers Dirk. On the other side, Nowitzki's defense is, um, exploitable.
Curry vs. Jose Calderon. Curry is a scorer who can shoot the 3. Calderon does little other than shoot the 3. Curry has a decent chance to stop Calderon, whose best chance to stop Curry is hoping Steph's strained quad sends him to the bench.
INJURY REPORT: For the Warriors, C Festus Ezeli (right knee surgery) is out.
For the Mavericks, F Jae Crowder (abdominal strain) is out.
LAST 10: Warriors 8-2, Mavericks 6-4.
SERIES HISTORY: The teams split their first two meetings, the Mavericks winning by four (103-99) in Dallas and the Warriors winning by two (95-93) in Oakland.