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Hornets need to build some momentum before heading out west

The Hornets are just 1-6 against the Western Conference this season. Getting a second win tonight could be a boost as they head out on a west coast trip.

NBA: Orlando Magic at Charlotte Hornets Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

What: Charlotte Hornets (18-18) vs. Dallas Mavericks (17-19)

When: 7:00 p.m. EST

Where: Spectrum Center; Charlotte, NC

How to watch: Fox Sports Southeast, NBA League Pass

Tonight’s game against the Mavericks is very important. A win would put the Hornets back above .500 heading into a six game west coast road trip. It would also mark only their second win in eight tries against Western Conference foes (though the one win was against the first place Nuggets). Including tonight, the Hornets play nine straight inter-conference games. They need to start winning those.

Tonight’s opponent comes in a little down on its luck. The Mavericks have lost eight of their last ten after winning 13 of their previous 17. Six of those eight losses were by single digits.

They are led by rookie phenom Luka Doncic. The 19-year-old is averaging 19.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 5.0 assists per game. Only two players in NBA history have matched those numbers as a rookie- Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson. Last year’s EuroLeague MVP is scoring efficiently to boot, shooting 43.6% from the field and canning nearly two and a half 3-pointers per game on 37.4% shooting from behind the arc.

The rest of the Mavericks roster looks good on paper. Doncic is joined in the starting lineup by Dennis Smith Jr., Wesley Matthews, Harrison Barnes, and DeAndre Jordan. But the pieces are neither fitting together well nor playing to their individual potential. Smith, in only his second year, is still trying to find his way in the NBA. Barnes is proving to be better suited in an ancillary role like the one he had in Golden State rather than in a lead role like Dallas had hoped. Matthews is no longer the defensive stopper he once was. Jordan has looked mostly disinterested on the defensive end and has been an egregious rebound chaser.

The Mavericks bench unit doesn’t have the same name recognition as the starters, but they’ve been the better unit. J.J. Barea leads all bench players in assists per game and is capable of taking over games for short stretches. Maxi Kleber is a defensive force, and the Mavericks have been 16.6 points per 100 possessions better when he plays than when he sits.

According to Rick Bonnell, it sounds like Willy Hernangomez and Devonte’ Graham will start in place of the injured Zeller and Lamb.

The Hornets need this win. They need to prove that they can beat Western Conference opposition and that they can win without Zeller.