The Atlanta Hawks don't appear to be the world beaters they were last year.
There seems to be a crack in the armor this year for the 13-9 Hawks, and that plays well into the Dallas Mavericks' favor as they come back to the American Airlines Center after pulling off back-to-back road wins over the Washington Wizards and New York Knicks.
The Mavericks have won three of their last four. The Hawks have won, then lost and then won again for the better part of three weeks. This has all the makings of one weird early-season matchup. Here's your preview.
Which Hawks player might be due for a big game?
Even though the wins haven't always been there, one of the hottest players in the Eastern Conference right now has to be Paul Millsap.
Atlanta's 20-point loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Nov. 28 was the only time Millsap didn't score in double figures. His 26-point outing against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Nov. 30 concluded a string of five 20-point performances in his last seven games.
If he plays well, the Hawks are sure to win. When he scores 20 points or more, Atlanta has either won the game or lost by at a couple possessions eight times. His talent and ability as a No. 1 option makes Atlanta a dangerous team.
There is solace to be had, though. In the four times he's played Dallas since becoming a member of the Hawks, he's scored only 20 points one time. The last time he did before that was on March 3, 2012 when he was a member of the Utah Jazz.
So, the safe bet here is that Dirk Nowitzki owns this matchup when they get together and normally it's guys like Jeff Teague that have big games against the Mavericks. But Millsap has been on a tear this year, and could be due for a big night.
What's the biggest matchup to watch?
Deron Williams has not had great success against Jeff Teague. The two have faced off 14 times in the regular season. Teague has won 11 of those matchups, but it hasn't been because Williams has played well. In fact, D-Will has averaged 15.1 points per game compared to Teague's 13.9.
Against Teague, Williams has shot a dreadful 38 percent from the floor and 30 percent from 3-point range. Tonight will be the night where we find out if D-Will's recent surge is a sign of things to come or the biggest of aberrations.
Since his 4-of-16 shooting performance against the Spurs on Nov. 25, Williams has scored in double figures in his last six games, scoring 20 points or more four times. Dallas has gone 4-2 in that stretch and 3-1 when he scores at least 20. The Mavericks are going to need him to score points tonight, barring another 10 3-pointer barrage by Wes Matthews.
These are two very talented point guards. Whomever can put together the biggest performance is probably going to lead his team to the ultimate triumph tonight.
What do the Mavs need to do to win?
Stop the 3-point barrage that could come at any given time. This Atlanta team can shoot the lights out. They're not on the same level as the Golden State Warriors, and it's not just Kyle Korver providing all the long-range bombs. Korver obviously leads the Hawks at 42.9 percent, but then it's Kent Bazemore at 42.1 percent, Thabo Sefolosha at 38.9 and
The good news is, Dallas has defended the three very well this year, allowing only 32 percent of made threes through 22 games.
If Atlanta gets hot at any point, their inside-out game becomes even more dangerous with how well they move the ball. Dallas needs to collapse on every body behind the 3-point line, and Wes Matthews needs to stay on Korver for each minute he's on the floor. If the Mavericks can do enough behind the 3-point line and take advantage at the other end, Dallas should win this game and notch a very impressive win under its belt.
How to watch
8:30 p.m. CT on ESPN or streaming on WatchESPN