What did Charlotte do over the summer?
For starters,* Charlotte dramatically improved its overall look by returning to the Hornets brand in all its teal and purple glory. After surprising everyone by becoming a dark horse playoff contender, the Hornets (nee Bobcats) looked to build on that success by adding controversial Chandler Parsons backup plan Lance Stephenson. Charlotte also signed former Tarheel and Texas Legends standout P.J. Hairston. Unfortunately, they also lost a highly underrated player in Josh McRoberts, replacing him with Marvin Williams.
*I hope at least one person enjoyed this pun.
Lance Stephenson hasn't exactly looked like the star Charlotte would like him to be, as he is currently the team's fourth leading scorer, behind vaunted scoring dynamo Gary Neal. But Lance is averaging nearly 10 rebounds a game from the starting 2-guard spot, so that's something, right?
What has Charlotte done lately?
The Hornets haven't gotten off the the greatest of starts. Off to a 4-6 start, Charlotte is coming off of a 4-game West Coast trip that was less than successful. While the Hornets beat the Suns, they were blown out by the Warriors and were beaten by the Lakers, arguably the NBA's second-most-inept team. (For the record, the Hornets are the only team the Lakers have beaten.)
Meanwhile Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Lance Stephenson, Kemba Walker, Marvin Williams, and Gary Neal have all been struggling with injury lately. MKG has missed the last two games, and both Williams and Neal left the Golden State game and did not return. No word yet on who from that group will be able to play against the Mavs.
Which team stat might determine the outcome of this game?
So I'm sure no one wants to hear this, but rebounding might have a huge impact on this game. Which is, of course, bad news for the Mavs. The Hornets are currently second in the NBA in defensive rebounding percentage and seventh in total rebounds. As we all know, the Mavs are notoriously terrible at rebounding. While the Mavs have a stunningly great offense, it is also an offense that relies somewhat heavily on jump shots. If those aren't falling (and sometimes they aren't), don't expect there to be much opportunity for second chances.
A somewhat unusual facet of this particular statistic is that other than Lance, no single player on the Hornets is a particularly amazing rebounder. Lance averages 9.5 a game, but the next best individual rebounder on the team is Al Jefferson with 6.8 a game. The problem with Stephenson being the big rebounding guy is that he's more than capable of destroying teams in transition. Which could be bad news for the Mavs defense.
What do the Mavs need to do to be successful against the Hornets?
First of all, forget about the last two games. The Mavs absolutely demolished the Sixers and the T-Wolves, and it wouldn't be surprising at all if Dallas comes out with a bit less intensity than the Hornets. Energy will be important, because the Warriors provided a pretty good blueprint for how the Mavs can beat the Hornets. Fast pace, transition scoring, and crisp passing should help the Mavs build a good lead. And for all of Dallas's defensive woes, I'm just not sure Charlotte has the requisite firepower to keep up if this game becomes a shootout.
As long as the Mavs are making their shots, this should be a win. The Hornets are a good defensive team (though not quite as good as last season, at least not so far). Nevertheless, this Dallas team has more than enough weapons to beat all but the very best defenses in the league, as long as the Mavs play with energy and don't settle for stupid pull-up jumpers early in the shot clock. Energy and pace are the keys to beating Charlotte.