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3 things to watch for as the Mavs battle the Hornets

It’s the first matchup between the two teams looking to gain ground in their respective conferences.

NBA: Preseason-Dallas Mavericks at Charlotte Hornets Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Mavericks (14-28) travel to Charlotte to take on the Hornets (15-23) on the second night of a back-to-back. Predictably, the Mavs have struggled with back-to-backs owning a 2-5 record on games with no day of rest. Unfortunately, the Hornets haven’t played since Friday when they beat the Los Angeles Lakers to push their winning streak to three games. On the road, against a well-rested team, here’s what to watch for as the Mavericks try to make it 14 wins on the season.

Kemba Walker

The Hornets 27-year-old point guard is having another fantastic season. He’s averaging 21 points and six assists playing about 35 minutes per game. Walker is lightning quick and uses a exceptional first step to blow by defenders. This season, he’s scoring .97 points per possession as the pick-and-roll ball handler and hardly turning it over in those situations. Walker is the engine that makes the Hornets go. He has an 18.3 net rating differential when he’s on the floor versus off the floor, which is far and away the highest on the team. Slowing down the Hornet’s floor general will be a top priority Wednesday night.

Playing clean

The Hornets as a team rely heavily on free throws. On the season, 19 percent of their points come from free throws (highest in the league), and they own the highest free throw attempt rate in the league (.314). Led by Walker (7.5 FTA/per game) and Dwight Howard (5.4 FTA/per game), the Hornets lead the league in free throw attempts per game, but fortunately for Dallas, the don’t shoot them very well. Even still, the Mavs are never in an opportunity give up free points, and tonight won’t be any different.

The closing lineup

The Mavericks are rarely every out of a game. And they rarely ever put a team away early. They push teams to the brink, or let teams hang around until the final minutes. In fact, prior to last night, in the past eight games the highest score differential was eight points. These games are close, so the lineup Rick Carlisle trots out for the final minutes is important. On Sunday night, Carlisle elected to sit Dennis Smith Jr. and Yogi Ferrell in favor of J.J. Barea and Devin Harris. Post game he said that he doesn’t have a set closing lineup, and that he wanted to see what Barea and Harris could do after the Knicks had started to separate (paraphrased, of course). Tuesday night, Smith Jr. and Ferrell were instrumental and putting the Magic away in the fourth. For tonight, will Carlisle roll with the hot hand? Will he sit whoever is slumping, or will he let them play through it? Who knows, maybe the game won’t even be close, but be sure to see who finishes the game if it comes down to the wire.

How to watch

The game tips at 6:00 p.m. CST and can be viewed locally on FSSW or out-of-market on NBA League Pass.