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3 steps to beating the Charlotte Hornets

The Mavericks face the Hornets on the second night of a back to back.

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

The Charlotte Hornets are one of the teams the Mavericks may find themselves watching closely this year. Not because the two games between these teams are particularly important, but because the Hornets have some experience climbing out from the bottom of the barrel. It took the team five full seasons after joining the league as an expansion team to finally hit .500 in 2010, only to set the record for worst win percentage in NBA history (.106) two years later. But they’ve managed to squeeze into the playoffs twice in the last three seasons and are looking like they could be even better this year. They’re currently fifth in the East.

Some of the team’s success is due to head coach Steve Clifford, but a lot of it is due to their smart but not splashy personnel moves over the last few years. Several draft picks have worked out well (Kemba Walker has been fantastic this year, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is solid) and they’ve added players like Nicholas Batum and a seemingly reinvigorated Roy Hibbert.

Charlotte is a sneaky deep team that has gotten good wins over Atlanta and Memphis and almost got the better of San Antonio. So what does Dallas need to do to stop them?

Win the battle of the defenses

We knew this Mavericks team wasn’t going to be an offensive powerhouse, but many of us had high hopes for the team’s defense when it was assembled over the summer. Those hopes have largely been dashed, but the Mavs have shown hints of life as recently as last night against the Spurs.

The Mavericks are one of the slowest teams in the league (second only to Utah), and they’ve been most successful when they’ve been able to control the pace of the game. In this respect, Charlotte could present a favorable match-up.

Like the Mavericks, they’re on the slower side of league average (not quite as slow as the Mavs, though), and their offense is weaker than their defense. They don’t get into the paint that often, and they’re good but not great from the three-point line, which the Mavericks have sometimes struggled to defend this season.

Slow the Hornets’ ball movement

But the Hornets do move the ball well. More of their baskets are assisted than any team in the league except the Warriors, and even if the overall pace of the game is slow, Dallas’ defense could get in trouble if the Hornets’ passing is more than they can keep up with. It was understandable that players who largely didn’t play together last season struggled with team defense early in the season, and it has seemed like the team is starting to gel, but Dallas will need to continue that trend if they want a chance at that fourth win.

Stop Kemba Walker

The Hornets may not be an offense-oriented team, but Kemba Walker is a scoring threat at a position the Mavs aren’t necessarily well equipped to defend. He has an effective field goal percentage of nearly 56 percent and the highest usage rate on the team. He averages more than 24 points per game with five assists and just two turnovers.

The Mavericks’ backcourt has their work cut out for them.

How to watch

Tonight’s game tips off at 6:00 p.m. Central on Fox Sports Southwest and on NBA League Pass for viewers outside of the Dallas area.

Player Projections from