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NBA Dallas Mavericks

5 Things to Watch in the Dallas Mavericks’ First Preseason Game

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5 Things to Watch in Dallas Mavericks' Preseason Opener

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Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY

It's finally here. Tonight is the first of eight preseason games the Dallas Mavericks will play before the games count for real. Tonight, they face the re-branded New Orleans Pelicans and second-year star the “Uni-Brow,” Anthony Davis.

The Mavericks have a new look to their roster, retaining only six players from last year’s squad. Naturally, they will need time on the court together in order to really gel. Last year during the preseason, Dirk Nowitzki’s knee swelled up, eventually leading to surgery which cost him all of the preseason and 29 regular season games.

With any luck, Dirk’s knee will hold up and the Mavericks won’t have to mesh their new team together on the fly mid-season as they did last year. Unfortunately, Dallas will be without new starting point guard Jose Calderon due to a hamstring issue. The team will want him to get as much playing time as reasonably possible, but they won’t rush the veteran back until he’s physically ready enough to play. It sounds as though he’ll be available within the next few games, if not the next one.

Along with Calderon, the Mavericks will be missing Devin Harris and rookie Shane Larkin, who are both recovering from foot injuries. The Pelicans will be without Tyreke Evans, and could be without Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson, neither of whom played in the Pelicans' first preseason game on Saturday.

Like any preseason game in any sport, it is important to know what to watch out for. While it’s always nice to win a game, the final score is far less important than evaluating which players have chemistry together and who is deserving of valuable playing time. With that in mind, here are five key things to watch for tonight as the Dallas Mavericks kick off the 2013 preseason.

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How Will Dirk's Knee Hold Up?

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Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY

Dirk's knee was a major issue last season. He never truly looked himself, although he did perform much better in the second half of the year. While Dirk's knee may not the most exciting storyline of the season, this may well be the most important one for the Mavericks this year.

It's entirely possible that Dirk will have a subpar game by his standards. Even Coach Rick Carlisle will tell you that Dirk doesn't shoot the ball as well as he usually does until the regular season starts. Even if Dirk fails to make a single shot, what's important is that he doesn't suffer a setback and is able to move well on the court.

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The Rookie Gets the Start

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Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY

With starter Calderon and projected backup Larkin on the bench with injuries, rookie Gal Mekel will get the start and probably the bulk of the minutes at point guard.

Mekel was a monster in the Israeli league, winning the MVP over there twice in three seasons, so picking him up as a rookie free agent could be one of the best bargain moves the Mavericks have ever made. The key for Mekel will just be to get acclimated to the speed and size of NBA players, which are surely in a different class than players in the Israeli league.

It is unreasonable to expect a rookie point guard to have great success, but Mekel is not an average rookie, since he's been playing professionally for years. He will probably have some growing pains, especially when it comes to trying to force passes that aren't there, but if he can create some offense then he will be on the right track.

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Ricky Ledo's First NBA Action

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Jerome Miron-USA TODAY

Ricky Ledo has to be one of the most intriguing rookies to enter the NBA this year. Some seem to think that he will end up being the steal of the draft and one of the best players of the 2013 draft class, while others think that he will never end up amounting to anything.

Due to his being ineligible to play any games in his one year in college, he is almost entirely an unknown commodity. Tonight will be the first time he will face anything close to NBA-level competition, and it will be interesting to see how he fares against this caliber of player. He's most likely more raw than even the usual second-round draft pick, but he has to start learning sometime and that will likely begin tonight.

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Samuel Dalembert Protecting the Rim

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Jerome Miron

The Mavericks brought in Samuel Dalembert this year to basically do just two things on the court: rebound and protect the paint. Tonight will be the first chance to see what he can bring to either of those aspects.

While the team desperately needs help in both areas, the one that will be the main focus for Dalembert is the defense. Last year, Chris Kaman was nearly useless on the defensive end, but Dalembert is known as one of the better rim protectors in the league.

One overlooked dimension of having a rim protector on the Mavericks is how it opens up Dirk's game. Dirk has a reputation as a poor defender, but in fact he is quite effective when he can be a weak side help defender, which is what he was able to do when Tyson Chandler was with the team. Dalembert isn't Chandler, but he'll attempt to do some of the same things on defense, which mainly just means keeping opposing players from getting good shots close to the basket.

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Monta Ellis' Offensive Mindset

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Benny Sieu-USA TODAY

Monta Ellis is certainly a hot topic among Mavericks fans. He has proven in the past that he can be an elite-level scorer, but the team needs him to be an efficient second option to Dirk.

Much has been made of Ellis' poor shot selection, something which Coach Carlisle will surely work to remedy. Since it is preseason, it is possible that during these less important games Ellis will do some of his typical shot hunting, but it will be very interesting to see if he is a bit more conservative than he was in the past, especially from the three-point line, which has been something of a weakness for Ellis in recent years.