The Mavericks capped off their four-game homestand in convincing fashion. After outscoring their opponents by a combined 67 points in the last two games of the set, Dallas now has the highest point differential in the Western Conference and the highest net rating in all of basketball. Dallas played like a juggernaut after falling behind to Sacramento, clawing itself out of that hole and into a three-game winning streak.
But now it’s time to head on the road for a quick two-game trip, first in Charlotte and then in Washington. The Hornets (not Bobcats, remember) are off to just a 4-6 start this season, but it’s widely assumed that when all is said and done they’ll be one of the top-eight out East. This is the Mavs’ first road game against an Eastern Conference team this season, and it’s going to be a doozy. The Hornets play a gritty style built around their All-NBA center Al Jefferson. Tyson Chandler is going to have a heck of a challenge on his hands, and those bruising matchups inside are always fun to watch.
Before we go any further, let’s dig into the numbers and see what the Hornets’ defense is made of.
|Mavs Offense||Hornets Defense|
|Points/100 poss.||115.0(1)||102.7 (13)|
|eFG%||54.2 (2)||50.0 (16)|
|TOV%||11.9 (2)||14.1 (20)|
|Off/Def Reb%||25.7 (15)||78.8 (2)|
|FT/FGA||.257 (23)||.234 (2)|
Where Charlotte beats teams is on the glass; free-agent acquisition Lance Stephenson, a guard-forward, is near the top of the league in rebounds per game. Jefferson adds nearly seven a game himself, and point guard Kemba Walker even averages 4.2 per contest. This is a team that looks to end offensive possessions as soon as possible, so Dallas must make its field goal attempts count.
That could prove to be slightly difficult, however. The Hornets are 13th in defensive rating this season but have been the third-best defensive team in home games, per NBA.com. They allow opponents to shoot just 42.7 percent in Time Warner Cable Arena, the fifth-best mark in the NBA. The Mavs, however, are well-equipped to perform well in the difficult environment. Dallas scores 107.8 points per 100 possessions on the road this season, sixth-best in the league, and is one of just eight teams with a positive net rating in games played away from home. Veteran teams generally perform well on the road, but this will still be a tough test.
As good as Jefferson is on the offensive end, he’s almost as capable defensively. He blocks 1.4 shots per game and opponents shoot a hair over 53 percent at the rim against him, per SportVU. That’s not an elite number, necessarily, but for reference, Tyson Chandler holds opponents to exactly 50 percent shooting at the rim and he’s considered one of the best rim-protectors in the game. After setting a franchise record by scoring 76 points in the paint against Minnesota on Saturday, the Mavs will try to keep that type of pressure on and test Jefferson’s defense for 48 full minutes. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that Charlotte doesn’t give up many free throw attempts — fewer than one FTA for every field goal its opponent attempts. Monta Ellis and the other guards must look to finish and not draw contact, as the Hornets aren’t going to bail them out by committing any cheap fouls.
The Hornets have been playing without forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist the last couple games as he’s battled a right foot injury, and it’s still unclear if he’ll take the floor against the Mavs tonight. As Charlotte’s starting small forward, he’d be the one with first dibs on guarding Chandler Parsons while teammate Stephenson checks Monta Ellis. However, if MKG is unable to take the floor, former Texas Legend PJ Hairston could get the start instead. Hairston is big and strong for a 2-guard, but his size is less of a factor if he’s slid over to the 3-spot. That would play to Chandler Parsons’s advantage.
At this point, it’s becoming pretty clear that there’s no such thing as a bad matchup for Dirk Nowitzki, who continues to put up ridiculous stats every game. Marvin Williams and Cody Zeller will guard Nowitzki tonight. While Williams has the length and Zeller has the height needed to slow Nowitzki down, neither player has both. Look for another big night from Dirk — but, really, you could say the same thing every night. That’s what makes him one of the best.
|Mavs Defense||Hornets Offense|
|Points/100 poss.||103.6 (18)||98.1 (26)|
|eFG%||51.8 (24)||46.9 (26)|
|TOV%||20.0 (1)||14.3 (12)|
|Off/Def Reb%||69.4 (30)||23.3 (22)|
|FT/FGA||.288 (15)||.296 (15)|
The Hornets play a pretty old-school style of offense, attempting just the 24th-most treys per game in the league. Instead, Charlotte favors playing an inside-out style through Al Jefferson on the block. Big Al was named to the All-NBA Third Team last season and is off to another good start in 2014, averaging 21.4 points per game. He’s one of the most-talented post players in the league. Per Basketball-Reference, Jefferson’s usage rate of 30 percent is the highest of his career. The Hornets work through him early and often.
Stephenson and Walker assume most of the ball-handling duties on the perimeter, with the former acting as the facilitator to the latter’s scoring-minded play. Former Spur Gary Neal comes off the bench as the sixth man and is by far the team’s best three-point shooter, converting at a 42.9 percent clip this season. Neal is the type of “microwave” player who can turn a game around if he comes in and hits a few shots in a row. It will be important for Dallas to keep track of him on the outside and force him into tough, contested jump shots.
As a whole, the Hornets’ perimeter players have struggled to shoot the ball this season. Neal’s 39.8 FG percentage is the highest of any guard on the club. Charlotte has come out of the gate slowly this season on the offensive end, but the Mavs obviously aren’t going to let up defensively because of it. Dallas has put together two solid defensive efforts in a row, and that’s not even including the masterful effort against Sacramento to erase the 24-point deficit. Head coach Rick Carlisle has said all season long that his goal is for the team to finish higher in the defensive ranks this season than it did last season, and so far that’s the case with Dallas, which sits 18th in the league in defensive efficiency. If the Mavs can maintain that position all season long while continuing to stay dominant offensively, this team is going to win a lot of games.
The Hornets are struggling to score, but they aren’t struggling to defend. There’s a chance neither team will crack 100 tonight. But if the Mavericks can come out hot early, Charlotte might not have the firepower to get back into the game. The formula, then, is simple: Score the ball and limit Al Jefferson. It’s not an easy task, of course, but it’s the one at hand tonight.