March 2, 2012

The seven Southwest Division games the New Orleans Hornets have played so far represent a microcosm of the teams entire 2011-12 regular season. The Hornets, who have yet to win against the Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets, Memphis Grizzlies or San Antonio Spurs this season, have been competitive in virtually every divisional game, but have ultimately come up short. Among their seven defeats, theyve lost three times by exactly two points, including a frustrating January stretch of consecutive heartbreakers to Houston (90-88 in overtime), Dallas (83-81) and San Antonio (104-102). That was preceded by a 93-87 home loss to Memphis.

If the Hornets are to break through Friday for their initial Southwest Division triumph of the regular season, theyll need to put together a much better offensive performance than in two previous meetings with the Mavericks. New Orleans has scored exactly 81 points in both of its losses to Dallas, first on Jan. 7 in Texas and again two weeks later in Louisiana. The division rivals play each other four times annually during the 82-game schedule, but in this shortened 66-game slate, Fridays encounter actually marks the final matchup of 2011-12.

During their Jan. 21 visit to the Crescent City, the Mavericks ended an 11-game winning streak while facing the Hornets in the Hive, a skein that dated back to 2007. The defending NBA champions held on for their 83-81 victory despite the absence of All-Star forward Dirk Nowitzki, who was held out of action for rest and conditioning purposes. New Orleans had a chance to force overtime when Jarrett Jack grabbed an offensive rebound off his own intentionally-missed free throw, but Jacks putback from about 14 feet away came up short as the final buzzer sounded.

Intriguing matchup: Shooting guard, Marco Belinelli vs. Vince Carter
The Mavericks have received quality performances by their starters at this position in both wins over the Hornets this season. Carter outscored Belinelli 13-3 in the Jan. 7 contest, while Dallas Delonte West (filling in for the injured Carter) held a 16-4 scoring advantage on Jan. 21. Along with sharing team high scoring honors in the Mavs rare road victory in New Orleans, West also contributed five rebounds, six assists, one steal and one block..


When the reigning NBA champion Mavericks began the regular season at 0-3 and 4-5, it was easy for analysts to speculate that Dallas hopes of defending its first-ever title might be ending. After all, the Mavericks made a series of major offseason changes to their roster an unusual approach for a team that just collected championship rings. However, after their surprisingly rough start to 2011-12, the Mavs appear to have regained their footing. For example, Dallas closed January with a stretch of 11 victories in 14 games, including a pair of wins over New Orleans. Although it seemed unlikely during the first few weeks of the season, Dallas now appears to have an excellent chance to finish among the top four teams in the Western Conference, which would lead to homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The Mavs know they dont necessarily need to be a No. 1 seed to advance deep in the postseason, after winning it all last spring as the Wests No. 3 club. En route to vanquishing Miami in the NBA Finals, Dallas knocked off Portland, the Los Angeles Lakers and Oklahoma City, all clubs the Mavericks could see again this spring.

Mavericks star
By his lofty standards, 7-foot power forward Dirk Nowitzki hasnt had a great season in 2011-12, but after he led the Mavericks to the NBA championship last season, it wasnt a huge surprise when the native of Germany was picked to play in the 12 All-Star Game by Western Conference coaches. The 14th-year pro has averaged at least 20 points per game every campaign since 2000-01, a streak that could potentially come to an end with Nowitzkis shooting percentages dipping overall and from the three-point arc this season. Even so, the 33-year-old is a future Hall of Famer and will go down in hoops history as one of the greatest shooters of all time.

Maverick on the rise
Third-year shooting guard Rodrigue Beaubois pro career has been filled with promising stretches, as well as some frustration due to injuries that have kept him out of action and slowed his potential emergence. He averaged 8.4 points last season, but was limited to just 28 games (including 26 starts). The native of France sat out the Mavericks entire 2011 championship run as well, after he sustained a broken foot. In 2009-10, he became the only rookie in NBA history to shoot over 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three-point range and 80 percent from the foul line. Early this season, he again missed time to injury but is the teams sixth-leading scorer, primarily as a reserve.

On the sideline
Whether its been his prior stops in Detroit and Indiana, or his current post with Dallas, Rick Carlisle is a consistent winner. Now in his 10th overall season as an NBA head coach, Carlisle has only finished with a losing record once (in 2006-07 with the Pacers). Hes won 50-plus games six times, culminating with a 57-25 mark in 2010-11 that preceded the Mavericks run to the NBA championship. As a player, Carlisle played a total of five seasons in the late 1980s with Boston, New York and New Jersey.

Did you know?
The nickname of Dallas NBA franchise dates back to one of the clubs original owners, actor James Garner. Garner played the lead character in the popular 1950s and 1960s TV show Maverick. The other final candidates in a name-the-team contest among fans a promotion that was sponsored by a local Dallas radio station were Wranglers and Express. The Dallas metropolitan areas NFL and MLB franchises also sport Western-themed nicknames, the Cowboys and Rangers.

Players the Mavericks want shooting free throws in a close game... If the Mavericks need a three-pointer, three of their best options are...
Name Career FT percentage (through March 1)
Among the best foul shooters among all active NBA players.
Missed only seven of first 56 attempts this season.
Previously played for Phoenix, Miami and Toronto.
Name Career three-point percentage (through March 1)
Has never shot below 36.2 in a season since 2004-05.
Slumped considerably in this category early in 2011-12.
Dallas' hottest perimeter shooter in first half of season.

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