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3 things to watch for as the Dallas Mavericks battle the Phoenix Suns in the season opener

Basketball is back, and two of the top three picks in the 2018 draft take center stage.

NBA: Preseason-Charlotte Hornets at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been 189 dark, lonely days since Dallas Mavericks basketball. It was a summer of growth and experiences for many of us. We all went through some lows, like when the Mavericks slipped to five in the NBA draft lottery. We also experienced some highs, like when the Mavericks traded up and drafted Luka Doncic. Or when Dallas finally landed a marquee free agent in DeAndre Jordan. We all grew stronger and closer. And now we are officially back as the Mavs travel West and open up the 2018-19 season against DeAndre Ayton and the Phoenix Suns.

The Mavericks went 2-2 in the preseason, splitting a pair of games against the Philadelphia 76ers in China and imposing their will against the Beijing Ducks in Dallas. But the exhibition games are behind us, and the real thing is finally here. After two losing seasons, the Mavericks are looking to put the rebuilding phase behind them, and that starts tonight against the Suns. Here’s what to watch for.

New faces on the team

The Mavericks had an eventful off season. It started when the team traded up for Doncic, the European sensation who many draftniks pegged as the top overall prospect. In that same draft, Dallas also selected the reigning college basketball player of the year in Jalen Brunson from Villanova. The summer fireworks culminated in the long overdue free agency acquisition of DeAndre Jordan. In Jordan, the Mavericks have a center with all-NBA level talent, something they’ve desperately searched for seemingly every offseason.

Doncic and Jordan will play prominent roles and are key barometers in the Mavericks’ success. If Doncic has a rookie of the year caliber season, and Jordan regains his all-NBA form from a few seasons back, the Mavericks could be in the playoff hunt in the final weeks of the season. That all starts tonight, coincidentally against a team that passed up on Doncic.

DeAndre vs. DeAndre

Thought the Suns declined the opportunity to select the Slovenian superstar, they chose a downright dominant college basketball player in DeAndre Ayton. And what’s Ayton’s “Welcome to the NBA” gift? A date in the paint with Jordan. The former Arizona Wildcat looked like the No. 1 overall pick in the preseason, averaging 19 points and nine rebounds on 61 percent shooting.

Last year’s Mavericks would have been the sacrificial lamb to Ayton’s NBA debut, but there’s a reason the front office snagged Jordan in the opening hours of free agency. A top-three rebounder each of the last five seasons, Jordan could very well provide Ayton his “welcome to the NBA” moment.

Dorian Finney-Smith stepping into the spotlight

When news broke that Harrison Barnes was dealing with a hamstring strain and was likely to miss the season opener, things looked bleak for the Mavericks already thin wing rotation. The Mavericks were looking at a combination of 28-year-old rookie Ryan Broekhoff and Finney-Smith to absorb most of the minutes at the three. Yikes. But after four preseason games, Finney-Smith’s stock is on the rise. The third-year pro averaged eight points 4.5 rebounds and, most importantly, shot almost 42 percent from deep.

The former undrafted rookie has always possessed the traits to be a valuable NBA defender, but this season, with Barnes figuring to work back in slowly, Finney-Smith desperately needs to show the ability to keep defenses honest. As a 25-year-old who has only played in 102 games, a successful showing tonight could go along way for his confidence.

How to watch

The game tips off at 9:30 CST and can be watched on ESPN.