Gametime: 8:30 p.m. EST
Last year the Bobcats beat the Mavericks for the first time in franchise history. Sure, they were without Dirk Nowitzki, but still!
Tonight the Bobcats will try for win No. 2 against Mark Cuban's squad. Nowitzki is healthy and they have a strong scoring option at guard with Monta Ellis but the team's still struggling, especially on defense.
Nowitzki's never been a defensive demon but with his age, NBA mileage and injuries in the past year or two, he's struggling even more.
The Mavs don't give up a particularly high number of shots at the rim, but they do allow an absurdly high shooting percentage there, which is good for second-worst in the NBA at 65.1 percent. And perhaps the reason they don't rank higher in opponents' shots at the rim is because they have one of the highest ratios of how many free throws they give opponents to how many field goals their opponents take. Clearly the Mavericks have problems defending the paint. And as if these damning statistics weren't piling up enough, Dallas is the fourth-worst in blocking shots, per pace-adjusted stats from NBA.com, even in spite of having the fifth-best shotblocker in the league in Samuel Dalembert.
Shawn Marion is still the glue guy who brings defensive energy and one of the most unconventional shots I've ever seen, but his efforts on defense are akin to using one finger to try to plug a hole in a dam as other holes spring up. Being surrounded on the perimeter by defensive liabilities like Ellis and Calderon is certainly a challenge for Marion, Dalembert and coach Rick Carlisle.
Offensively, the Mavericks don't have too many problems. Ellis has been great as a scorer with a jumper or his specialty, driving to the rack and drawing fouls. Nowitzki's back to playing at a high level even if it's not as good as he was a few years ago. Jose Calderon has added some complexity to the Mavs offense with his court vision and sharpshooting skills. Funnily enough, Calderon's much better shooting from behind the arc than from inside it (47.8 percent on triples, 38.9 percent on twos). Go over those screens for Calderon, Kitties -- if he plays, that is. Calderon has a bone bruise in his right ankle and is questionable against the Bobcats. I'm guessing that won't help his ability to score inside the three-point line.
Looking at the bench, Dallas is led by a deteriorating Vince Carter, who is valiantly fighting Father Time but shooting under 40 percent from the field. DeJuan Blair is having a fantastic season so far as a role player absolutely dominating the glass. He leads the league in total rebounding percentage and offensive rebounding percentage. Coincidentally enough, the NBA leader in defensive rebounding percentage is Bismack Biyombo. Jae Crowder could be dangerous against the Bobcats, too. Charlotte is rather poor at defending the three ball and Crowder's shooting nearly 40 percent from there.
The Bobcats will have their hands full defensively against Dallas' high-powered offense, but they have a new integrity to their defensive intensity and should make things difficult for the Mavericks.
Offensively, the Bobcats will have to do the usual things that correlate with winning efforts: get to the line more, control the rebounding differential and play suffocating defense. Better shooting from behind the arc is an added bonus and clearly a good thing if it happens, but the Bobcats don't have a strong correlation between better three-point shooting and winning just yet. In wins, they've shot 31.1 percent from three compared to 29.3 percent in losses, which averages out to 0.4 more made threes a game in wins. Three-point shooting aside, they will need to finish well at the rim (56.5 field goal percentage in wins, 48.3 percent in losses) and to avoid being a disaster shooting from midrange. Charlotte posts miserable midrange numbers when they lose (around 30 percent from most areas on the floor) and around average in victories on some places. Basically, be mediocre between the paint and the arc and they'll have a good shot. They haven't been getting good shooting performances even in wins, which means they'll have to do what they do best at a high level to succeed, and that is drawing fouls to get to the line and forcing opponents into poor shooting from three-land and defending the paint effectively without fouling.
All stats via NBA.com/stats and basketball-reference.com