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3 things to watch as the Mavericks open the preseason at home against the Bucks

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Tonight, the Mavs begin their two-week dress rehearsal before the start of the regular season.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Milwaukee Bucks Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

After a long, excruciating six months of waiting, the Dallas Mavericks are finally back in action — well, sort of. It is only preseason basketball, but that should tide us over until the regular season begins in a little over two weeks. Tonight, the Mavs will open the preseason at home against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks.

These next few weeks will be more of a dress rehearsal than anything else, and trust me, there will be some really ugly basketball played. But, it will still be intriguing to see how some of the new Mavs perform in semi-real NBA games. Here are three things to watch for.

Dennis Smith Jr. vs. Malcolm Brogdon

As recently seen in our season preview roundtable, the popular opinion is that the Mavs will only win 30-something games and miss the playoffs for the second straight year. However, one thing everybody can agree on is that Dennis Smith Jr. will be exciting to watch this year. An aspiring Rookie of the Year candidate himself, Smith Jr. will take the next step in his NBA initiation by matching up against Malcolm Brogdon, who brought home the award last season. Given, the R.O.Y. competition wasn’t very intense last season due to Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons being injured, but it still makes for a good storyline.

Smith Jr. performed well against other rookies during summer league, but now the level of competition will increase and hopefully help prepare him for the point guard gauntlet he’ll face in the regular season. Not to get your hopes up too high, but I hope we see a lot of this, not only tonight, but throughout the rest of the preseason and the regular season. It is officially DSJ SZN.

The starting lineup

As if the Nerlens Noel drama from this past summer wasn’t enough, Rick Carlisle revealed on media day last week that the 23-year-old big man may be coming off the bench in what is an important contract year for him. Whether Noel starts tonight or not, anything can happen between now and the regular season opener. Carlisle didn’t fully commit to Noel coming off the bench, but it sure sounded that way.

Maybe playing small will help the Mavs get off to fast starts this season. Maybe Noel will come off the bench within a matter of minutes to relieve Dirk Nowitzki, play starter minutes and perform well. Maybe Carlisle rediscovers that starting Dirk at center is a huge defensive liability and changes the lineup for the next game. Either way, it’s something we’ll be paying close attention to tonight.

Also, if Noel does come off the bench, Seth Curry figures to be his replacement in the starting lineup, although it’s been reported that Yogi Ferrell has been starting alongside Smith Jr. in training camp so far. Tune in to see what happens!

Increasing the pace

Last season, the Mavs’ pace was the slowest it’s been since the 2011-12 campaign (Chris Kaman, anyone?).

This season, Carlisle plans on turning it up a notch with Smith Jr. expected to start at point guard. As quick and physical as Smith Jr. is, it figures to benefit the Mavs if he’s out and running every chance he gets. Once opposing teams start to respect that aspect of Smith Jr.’s game, it should really start opening up shots for his teammates as well.

I think it’s great that the Mavs are going to speed it up this season. The real question, though, is can almost 40-year-old Dirk keep up with the young guns? Even if he can't, we all know how lethal Dirk can be when he’s trailing.

How to watch

The game tips off tonight at 7:30 pm Central. You can watch it on FSSW Plus.