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3 things to watch as the Mavericks face the Hawks

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Riding high on their recent wins, the Mavs head to Atlanta to take on the Hawks.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

After a disappointing loss to Minnesota right after the break, the Mavericks have roared back with solid wins over both the New Orleans Pelicans and the Miami Heat, handing Dion Waiters and company just their third defeat in the last 19 games.

Tonight they look to start an actual winning streak as they head to Atlanta (minus Wesley Matthews, out with a hip injury) to take on the Hawks, who struggled out of the post-All-Star gate with losses to Orlando and Miami but got a solid win over the second-place Celtics in Boston Monday night.

So far, new Mavericks Nerlens Noel has fared very well against some of the best big men in the league, including Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, and Hassan Whiteside. How will he and the Mavericks measure up against Dwight Howard and the Hawks tonight?

Here are three things to keep in mind ahead of tonight’s game:

The Hawks are pretty good

They’ve had an inconsistent season, getting off to a hot start before plummeting in the rankings (and then crawling their way back up them), but the Hawks are a tough match up. They traded veteran sharp-shooter Kyle Korver immediately before their previous match with Dallas, but the team hasn’t seen any negative impact on their record, which includes 13 wins (out of 23 games) since the trade, including against the Mavericks.

Dwight Howard in particular is still a force to be reckoned with. He’s no longer at his prime in terms of volume (his per game numbers are down across the board), but he’s still a very efficient shooter and a good defender who pulls down nearly 13 boards per game.

And while the the Hawks aren’t generally a great (or prodigious) three-point shooting team, they sank an impressive 11-22 in Dallas last month, a feat the Mavericks’ defense will obviously not be keen to let them repeat.

Noel is still finding his footing

Given the inconsistent and often poorly matched role Nerlens Noel was forced to play in Philadelphia, it’s remarkable that his numbers coming to Dallas were as good as they were. Since suiting up as a Maverick, he’s been asked to take on a wholly different kind of role. His minutes have gone way up, but his field goal attempts are down as Carlisle has been easing him into the offense.

But despite being thrown into a more complicated offensive scheme, Noel has largely lived up to expectations. Sure, it’s only two games, but it’s been heartening to see his field goal efficiency take only a small hit and his total rebounds per 36 minutes increase. He’s seen some challenging big men in his previous games as a Maverick, and that will continue tonight in Atlanta. But each game is an opportunity to see how Noel is adjusting to his new role, and it’ll be interesting to see how he handles it.

Dirk’s inconsistency

The Mavericks have been incredibly fun to watch the last several games, but one of the few sore spots has been watching Dirk still struggling to recover his shot. He’s had some stellar games (he looked in vintage form against both Detroit and Portland), but he’s also had a lot of games in which his shot just. will. not. fall.

The Hawks are possibly the strongest team the Mavericks have faced since acquiring Nerlens Noel. They made need both their new young players AND their veterans clicking if they want to take home this win.

How to watch

Tonight’s game tips off at 6:30pm Central on Fox Sports Southwest. Outside of the Dallas and Atlanta areas, you can catch the game on NBA League Pass.