The Mavericks undefeated start to the season is over after the Denver Nuggets took care of business on their home floor Friday night. It wasn’t as big of a blowout as it could have been, but the Nuggets were firmly in control from the opening tip to the final buzzer. Dallas now has to regroup after a loss for the first time this season against the Charlotte Hornets Sunday night.
If you remember from last season, the Hornets played a huge role in the Mavericks tailspin during the second half of last season. The Mavericks lost back-to-back games late in the season to a Hornets team already eliminated from post-season play. Those losses spurred a losing stretch that knocked the Mavericks out of postseason contention entirely, finishing 11th in the West last season.
Now the Mavericks have some chance at revenge. Dallas has done its job against the bad teams it’s played so far this season, and the team will need to continue that trend to get its fifth win. Here’s what we’re watching for.
The Hornets still present some challenges
The version of the Hornets the Mavericks play Sunday will be an upgraded squad compared to the one they played last season. Last season, the Mavericks didn’t have to worry about LaMelo Ball and Terry Rozier were out of the lineup and the Hornets were starting a rookie big man in Mark Williams.
Fast forward to this season and while the Hornets aren’t off to a roaring start, their top-line depth is much better this time around. Ball and Rozier are back on the floor and healthy, Williams is a bit more seasoned now in his sophomore year, and the addition of 2023 number two overall draft pick Brandon Miller gives this team much needed depth on the wing. Miller doesn’t even start, with Gordon Hayward and P.J. Washington manning the two starting forward spots.
Washington and Hayward both did damage against the Mavericks in those two games last season, so adding Miller, Ball, and Rozier to the mix could be trouble. Of course, the Mavericks have made multiple upgrades since the last time these two teams played as well, so Dallas still needs to take care of business.
A relief in the paint
Going against Denver, the Mavericks new and improved front court was still no match for the Nuggets’ beef in the front line. Dallas got swallowed up in the paint and on the boards by Nikola Jokic, Aaron Gordon, and Michael Porter Jr. Thankfully, the Hornets are a bit leaner in that department.
Washington is still a dynamite forward and Williams is a solid second-year big. But the Hornets lineup similarly mimics the Mavericks, as Washington isn’t the same type of bruising forward that Gordon can be. The Hornets like to play one big next to two forwards, similarly to how the Mavericks like to play one big next to their forwards. Dallas shouldn’t be as outmatched in the paint compared to the Denver game, so hopefully that means a bounce back performance from Mavericks rookie center Dereck Lively.
Can Kyrie Irving heat up?
Irving came back from a foot injury Friday against the Nuggets that caused him to miss the previous two games against the Bulls and Nets. Irving played pretty well against Denver, scoring 22 points on 15 shots.
Despite that, Irving still slumped from three, shooting just 1-of-5 from deep against the Nuggets. That now makes him 3-of-17 from three in the three games Irving has played this season. That the Mavericks are still 4-1 despite Irving’s slow start goes to show how immaculate Doncic has played, and how well some of the new pieces have contributed. But make no mistake, ultimately the Mavericks will only go so far as their star duo takes them, and Irving needs to regain his form quickly.
How to watch
The Mavericks and Hornets tip off at 6:30 p.m. CST in Dallas. Locally fans can watch on Bally Sports Southwest, while those outside of DFW can watch on NBA League Pass.