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3 things to watch for as the Mavericks head to Atlanta

Closing out the preseason on a road back-to-back, the Mavericks take on the Atlanta Hawks Thursday night.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Atlanta Hawks Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Monday night saw the Dallas Mavericks play their final preseason home game, outlasting the Orlando Magic, taking one back after the previous loss. It was also the second game this season that Rick Carlisle used more traditional rotations, allowing the starters and the first bench unit to get more run together.

Now the Mavs will finish the preseason with a road back-to-back (we all know how much Carlisle loves those), and the first is tonight against the Atlanta Hawks - which happens to be their opening night opponent.

A few things to look for in a clash of these two rebuilding squads:

Can the starters begin to find a defensive identity?

Try not to laugh. At no point will a starting unit of Dirk Nowitzki, Harrison Barnes, Wesley Matthews, Yogi Ferrell, and Dennis Smith, Jr. be considered a defensive juggernaut. And that’s fine. They may not shut down opponents, but they’re a group of five that are threats to score across the floor.

Still, Rick Carlisle and this crew will need to scheme ways to slow teams down. Preseason is a hard benchmark, but it’s been clear opposing teams have felt comfortable getting in to the lane with relative ease. The lack of length on the perimeter, or a rim protecting presence, will prove difficult once the games start to matter.

This is a process, and will take time to develop. But Rick Carlisle is the hypnotist of the hardwood, and will develop defensive sets that should conceal some of those weaknesses.

The DSJ-Yogi Duo

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or turned off the internet (can you do that?), you know by now that Seth Curry is dealing with an injury that looks to keep him out for an undetermined period of time. It’s unclear how long the Mavs will need a starter replacement - but at this point, it looks to be Yogi Ferrell.

I’ll be honest, when it became clear that Yogi was the guy, I was fine with it. Ferrell and Smith Jr. played well off each other during summer league, and their games are complimentary on the offensive end. But as they debuted on Monday night I felt pretty iffy. I still think it is a workable pair - and if anything it helps clearly define the bench roles for J.J. Barea, Devin Harris, Dorian Finney-Smith, Dwight Powell and Nerlens Noel (who look to be a surprisingly fun unit) - but there is still plenty to be sorted out for the young starting guards on both ends of the floor.

It’s possible that Seth Curry will return relatively soon and the chemistry of these two players will be less important. But judging from Curry’s injury history, and the fogginess of the recovery on his most recent setback, it will be important for the starting backcourt to mesh for the time being.

Who fills out the end of the roster?

It was nice to see the core rotation get some more traditional run on Monday, even if it still wasn’t full regular season minutes. But with the preseason winding down, and the pointlessness of overworking players on a back-to-back, we may not see those players as much in these next two games:

So whether it’s tonight, or tomorrow night (or both), expect to see a sizable dose of those players fighting for the final spots. Teams have until Monday the 16th to finalize their rosters, so these next two games, and practices over the weekend, will help determine who the front office would like to lock down.

There are guaranteed and partially guaranteed deals for guys like Maxi Kleber and Jeff Withey respectively, on the table. And then players like Giann Clavell, P.J. Dozier and Brandon Ashley all should be vying for that final two-way contract. It’s make or break time for all of them if they’d like to stay in Dallas.

How to watch

The game tips at 6:30 p.m. Central. You can watch on FSSW+ or NBA League Pass.