A return home to the American Airlines Center sets the scene for the Dallas Mavericks attempt to bounce back from their sixth loss in overtime this season. Now 0-6 when extra basketball is played, the Mavs hope to settle the game in regulation when they host divisional opponent New Orleans Hornets.
The Hornets have been enduring their own struggles as they come into this game with a 7-25 record which has them situated in the Western Conference basement. The Mavs are in unfamiliar standing for this time of year as they are 12th place in the conference with only the Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns sitting between them and the last place Hornets.
Rick Carlisle stated earlier this morning that Dirk Nowitzki will make his return to the starting lineup tonight. This will be his 7th game since his return from knee surgery. He had his best game in the OT loss to the Miami Heat, posting 19 points and six boards. Dirk’s shot and mobility looked much improved.
With the returns of Dirk Nowitzki and Eric Gordon, each team has seen their best player back out there. Gordon has played two games this year and it’s accounted for one of the team’s seven victories as he’s averaging 17.5 points and 5 rebounds. Resting his knee for the game against the Rockets, Gordon expects to play and see an increase in minutes tonight.
Whether Dirk indeed will start still remains unclear for sure, but in the case he does who should start next to him at center? Dirk isn’t positive normal starter Chris Kaman is a lock, considers Elton Brand.
“We’ve got to be finding ways to be efficient defensively playing together,” Nowitzki said. “E.B. and I have been playing well together. So we’ll see how the minutes mix out. But I’m looking forward to playing with either.”
As reported by ESPN Dallas’ Tim MacMahon via NBA.com’s advanced stats, Dirk and Brand have been much more effective together than Dirk and Kaman when it comes to points given up per a 48 minutes basis. We’ll see what transpires, but it wouldn’t surprise anyone to see Brand start at center with Dirk.
Amid the challenging season for the Hornets, they have seen some bright spots in the play from two players acquired in free agency this past summer. Ryan Anderson and Robin Lopez have both been leaders and key contributors to a team finding it hard to come across many wins.
Lopez joined the Hornets via sign-and-trade and has manned the middle in New Orleans. As the starting center he’s improved both the offensive and defensive aspects of his game.
“I’ve always been trying to improve my game each season in the NBA,” he said. “I’m getting that opportunity now.”
Lopez’s averaging 12 points, 6 boards and nearly two blocks each game this season.
Anderson made his way to the Hornets in similar fashion from the Orlando Magic as Lopez did from the Phoenix Suns. Second in rebounding (7.0 RPG), the sharp shooting power forward’s nearly 18 points leads his team and also tops the NBA in three-point shots made with 102.
Then there’s Anthony Davis, their No. 1 overall selection in the draft. He’s pacing the Hornets in rebounds (8.7) and blocks (2.0) as he’s in a Rookie of the Year race with Portland point guard Damian Lillard.
Tonight’s challenge for the Mavs will be boxing out and defensive rebounding. Young teams feed off energy and will attack the glass. Dallas needs to limit the Hornets to no more than one shot, because second chance opportunities will bite you in the rear.
Play Ryan Anderson tight and for the drive. Anderson prefers to spot up and play on the perimeter which means the Mavs defending him need to close out on him forcing him to put the ball on the floor. If defensive mistakes occur with Anderson he can light it up from deep, already connecting on at least three triples in 20 games this season.
To put that into perspective, Anderson’s made 85 treys in just 20 games while O.J. Mayo has 78 makes from deep in 33 games played. Outside of Mayo and Vince Carter (63), Anderson’s 20 game stretch eclipses the rest of the entire Mavs roster (73).
The Mavs have felt their confidence rise depsite recent heartbreaking OT losses to both NBA Finals teams last year in Miami and OKC. Dirk certainly is gaining form and Mayo broke out of his slump to score 30 points in his last game. The duo combined for 49 points against the Heat and Mayo is learning to play alongside Nowitzki.
Dallas aims to claim its 9th home win of the season tonight.
The action starts at 7:30 p.m. CT and airs on FSSW/FSNO.
Let’s Go Mavs!
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