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What To Watch For: Mavs vs. Jazz

There’s a big difference between 1-1 and 0-2.

Not only does losing the first two games of the season make a team feel just a bit more desperate, but in this year’s stacked Western Conference, starting behind the 8-ball makes qualifying for the playoffs that much harder. Both the Mavs and Jazz fell in their respective season openers, so tonight we’ll see two teams desperate to get in the win column.

There are two modes of thinking when it comes to considering the importance of a potential win. The first is this is just a November game, so winning isn’t imperative. The other, more realistic take, however, is that every single game matters in the West, and it’s a lesson that Dallas, Memphis, and Phoenix learned last season, as the three teams battled down to literally the last shot of the season to see who would make which seed in the playoffs. It’s almost painfully cliche to say each game is the most important contest of the season, but it’s going to prove to be true in 2014-15.

This also happens to be the Mavs’ home opener, which adds another level of excitement to a game with a fair amount of intrigue. This is the first official glimpse Dallas fans will get in-person of the roster, and it’s also their first chance to see JJ Barea since he signed with the team yesterday. He’ll be active tonight and available to play, but whether or not he takes the floor is ultimately up to head coach Rick Carlisle.

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Mavs bring back key cog of 2011 title team

I’m not sure you’ll find another person happier that JJ Barea is back than JJ Barea.

Barea cleared waivers yesterday and was immediately signed by Dallas, where he played the first five seasons of his career. The Puerto Rican point guard last wore a Mavericks uniform during Game 6 of the NBA Finals, when the Mavericks won the title against the Miami Heat in a series in which Barea ultimately played a pivotal role: It was head coach Rick Carlisle’s decision to start Barea in Game 4 — and the guard’s subsequent play — that swung the series in the Mavs’ favor.

Following the title season, Barea signed with Minnesota, where he’s spent the last three seasons, averaging 10.1 points and 4.3 assists per game — but his shooting averages dipped well below the marks he put up when playing in Dallas. During his first stint here, Barea developed into a reliable pick-and-roll partner with Dirk Nowitzki; you might remember that in Game 2 of the Mavs’ sweep against the Lakers in 2011, it was the Barea/Nowitzki P&R that blew the game wide-open in the fourth quarter. Reuniting with Nowitzki could very well help Barea return to his old efficient form. After all, it’s pretty easy to play with Dirk, and the guard practically had it down to a science a few years ago.

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What To Watch For: Mavs at Spurs

With Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter, and Patty Mills out for tonight’s season opener, the Mavericks are in a position to give Tim Duncan his first-ever loss in ring ceremony games.

That said, the Spurs aren’t strangers to playing without key rotation players. Head coach Gregg Popovich is known to rest his entire starting lineup for a game or two every season, and his teams have historically performed very well in such contests. Just last season, for example, Mills led a Tony Parker-less Spurs team to an April victory in Dallas. The lesson: No matter who’s suiting up, opponents should never take San Antonio lightly. And, to that end, you never know just what to expect from San Antonio on any given night.

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Dirk Nowitzki named best international player in the NBA

Dirk Nowitzki is the best international player in the NBA. Don’t ask me. Ask a GM.

That’s exactly what NBA.com did, and more than half the respondents named the Mavericks star No. 1. It’s not exactly a shock; Nowitzki has been named best international player in the NBA every season except for one since 2004. Dirk reclaimed the title from Tony Parker, who was named best born outside the States after an impressive 2013 Finals performance in a loss to the Miami Heat. Nowitzki finished third last season behind Parker and Marc Gasol, as he was coming off a knee injury that cost him a third of the 2012-13 campaign. Parker finished a distant second to Nowitzki this season, with the German capturing 53.6 percent of the votes and the French point guard just 28.6 percent.

Nowitzki’s ascension back atop the list should not surprise. Last season was perhaps his most efficient last season, and it led Grantland’s Kirk Goldsberry to name him the best shooter in the NBA. He scored 21.7 points per game in the 2013-14 season, leading the best offense in the NBA after the All-Star break to 49 wins and a near-upset of Parker’s Spurs in the first round of the playoffs. Nowitzki narrowly missed out on his second 50/40/90 season, coming about as close as one can — he hit 49.7 percent from the field, 39.8 percent from three-point range, and 89.9 percent from the free throw line. Oh, and he was 35 last season.

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New additions mastering Mavs’ pick-and-roll play

The Mavericks run lots of pick-and-rolls. So many, in fact, that the team led the league in pick-and-rolls last season. No other club in the NBA relies on the most common play in the NBA more than Dallas, and Dallas executes the set better than just about anyone. These are facts.

So what the Mavs did this offseason was find players who can fit into the pick-and-roll offense Rick Carlisle prefers. Jameer Nelson, Raymond Felton, Richard Jefferson, Greg Smith, and yes, of course Chandler Parsons and Tyson Chandler all excel when playing that style. Building a roster isn’t as simple as just signing the best players available. Especially in the NBA, it’s all about fit. Always.

It’s still preseason, sure, but the Mavs are running the pick-and-roll at a high level. It’s impressive, too, just how well they’re running it, given that many players on the team are new. I haven’t even mentioned Charlie Villanueva or Al-Farouq Aminu, two players who have enjoyed serious playing time thus far. Most of the 19-man roster is new, but for the most part it doesn’t appear that way. Remember, though: It’s all about fit. These pieces fit.

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Chandler Parsons demonstrates how dangerous he can be in Mavs’ flow offense

It didn’t take long for us to see how Chandler Parsons can influence the Mavs’ offense.

The 6′ 9″ forward led the team with 14 points in Tuesday’s preseason opener against the Houston Rockets, his former team. Parsons knifed his way to the rim again and again throughout the game, leading to the new Maverick drawing three shooting fouls and making two layups. This season’s Mavs offense will be built upon its perimeter players’ collective ability to drive to the rim — Dallas has five of the top 51 lane-drivers from last season — and, though it was just one game, Parsons’s first performance demonstrated that he’s going to be awfully dangerous this season.

Last season’s Rockets scored 1.21 points off of Parsons drives, 11th-best in the league. The forward is bigger than most small forwards and extremely quick for his size, creating a mismatch against nearly every defender he faces on any given night. And if there’s one thing ingrained in his mind from his three years in Houston, it’s this: Either shoot the three or drive to the rim. Don’t pull up, ever. That certainly could change this season with the Mavericks, but for one game, at least, Parsons was unstoppable. His six free throws tied for third-most on the team, behind Monta Ellis (12) and Al-Farouq Aminu (8). Parsons and Ellis are two of the premier rim-drivers in the NBA, but they can each spot up, too. Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said he’s looking forward to watching them work together.

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Monta Ellis feels at home in Dallas

Monta Ellis is a pretty good basketball player. We know that now after having seen him fit seamlessly into Rick Carlisle’s system last season, playing All-Star-caliber basketball for most of the season and saving his best for the playoffs, when he dominated the San Antonio Spurs in a season-saving Game 6 win. Ellis was an under-the-radar signing last season, but he’s anything but an under-the-radar player today. If you didn’t believe in Ellis before last season, you do now.

However, that’s about all we know about him. He’s a pretty reserved guy, especially with the media. After games, he answers a few questions, takes care of business, and heads home. He doesn’t do a bunch of interviews. He doesn’t live his life in the spotlight the way many other athletes do — not that there’s anything wrong with that lifestyle, either. Ellis just prefers to do things his own way: watch old movies, hang around the house, play one-on-one with his son, Monta Jr. The younger Monta is aptly named, as well: He’s a total clone of his father.

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Grantland ranks Dirk Nowitzki as the best shooter in the NBA

As part of its 2014-15 season preview, Grantland ranked Dirk Nowitzki as the No. 1 shooter in the NBA. Dirk finished just ahead of Stephen Curry (No. 2) and third-place Kevin Durant, the reigning league MVP.

The shot chart above, created by Grantland’s Kirk Goldsberry, details just how excellent a shooter Nowitzki has become. His shot chart is just blistering (in this case, red is above league average). And just how far above-par was Nowitzki during the 2013-14 season? According to NBA.com, Dirk shot at least 10 percentage points better than league average from seven of the nine two-point zones in its shot charts. His ’13-’14 campaign was an exercise in absolute efficiency from everywhere on the floor — except for the left wing, where he hit 32.2 percent of his three-point attempts, a contributing factor in his narrow miss at a 50/40/90 season.

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