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Mavericks at Hawks preview: the best of the East

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The Dallas Mavericks continue their efforts against the best teams in the Eastern Conference, taking on the Hawks in Atlanta.

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Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

What have the Hawks done lately?

The Hawks, who were one of the few teams not to make any trade deadline changes, are having what passes for a rough patch in their unexpectedly impressive season. They won their most recent game on Sunday against the Bucks, but have lost four of their last 10, including their first back-to-back losses since November, one of which was a one-point loss to the not-very-good Boston Celtics. These losses have some wondering if this is the sort of regression we should be expecting after a lucky hot start, but with a seven game lead on second-place Toronto, Atlanta is unlikely to lose the top seed.

What team stat may determine the game?

Those expressing concern about the Hawks regressing have cited both offensive and defensive trouble for the team. Until February, they were one of just two teams to have a top five offense and defense, but over the past month they've put up bottom-half performances on both ends of the court (according to NBA.com's stats; these rankings vary a bit from site to site). Their true shooting percentage has dropped by precipitously, down by almost four percentage points this month. On defense, they've been giving up more rebounds, and that's part of the reason opponents have been scoring, on average, four more points against the Hawks in February than in previous months.

What do the Mavericks need to do to be successful against the Hawks?

The Mavericks are catching the Hawks in a bit of an all-around slump, but February is a short month and even the best teams have stretches where they seem vulnerable. Atlanta looked revived in their win against the Bucks this weekend, and Dallas will need to take this team seriously, especially since this will be the second game of a back-to-back for the Mavs.

Still, if each team does continue to play as they have over the last month, this is a game Dallas can win. As Doyle and Andrew pointed out, the Mavericks have been playing stellar defense over the last few weeks. February hasn't been a great month for the Dallas offense, but their defense has been top five. Adding Amar'e Stoudemire to the bench has been a huge relief after watching the back-up bigs flounder for several games, so the Mavericks' improved defense and deeper bench could be enough to get them this win.

What are the match-ups to watch?

Rajon Rondo's return from injury has seen him draw tough defensive assignments, including Russell Westbrook and Kyle Lowry. Tonight will be no exception against Jeff Teague (the Hawks point guard missed practice yesterday due to illness, his coach said he still hopes he'll feel well enough to play tonight). Rondo has been frustrating to watch, but hopefully having a few games under his belt means that he's close to getting back into a rhythm. The Mavericks will certainly need his defense tonight.

Chandler Parsons remains out recovering from a bone bruise, and the Hawks are still missing Thabo Sefolosha.

Game Information

Tonight's game is at 6:30pm Central on Fox Sports Southwest, weather permitting:

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Chance that Mavs-ATL will be postponed tonight because of impending weather in ATL. Last time they had snow around here was disastrous</p>&mdash; Chuck Cooperstein (@coopmavs) <a href="https://twitter.com/coopmavs/status/570620890649645056">February 25, 2015</a></blockquote>

<script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

★★★

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