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Orlando Magic @ Dallas Mavericks

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The Magic will continue to tune-up for the playoffs when they go on the road to square off with another top-tier team on Thursday night – the Dallas Mavericks. The Magic are coming off of a victory over the Denver Nuggets 103-97 on Sunday evening. Dallas has played twice since Orlando last played, defeating the Nuggets 109-93 on Monday night in a pivotal game in regards to the #2 seed out west, and the Memphis Grizzlies 106-102 in overtime on Wednesday night.

The Mavericks defeated the Magic on February 19th in Orlando. The Magic held a four-point lead heading into the fourth quarter, but could not by a bucket in the final period and fell to the Mavericks 95-85.

NBA Stats

The Mavericks improved to 50-25 on Wednesday and are currently the Western Conference’s #2 seed. The Magic, the Eastern Conference’s current #2 seed, are 52-22. The Mavericks are 26-11 at home while the Magic are 22-15 on the road this season.

Tip-off from the American Airlines Center in Dallas is scheduled for 8:00 pm EST. The game will be aired locally by Sun Sports and can be seen nationally on TNT. As always, if you can’t watch the game, you can listen to it locally on WDBO AM 580 and in Spanish on WONQ AM 1030.

Both Caron Butler (stomach virus) and Brendan Haywood (finger injury) returned to the lineup on Wednesday. Jose Juan Barea has missed two straight games with a sore left ankle.

It looks like both Vince Carter and Mickael Pietrus will play for the Magic.

The Line: PK

Starters:

Orlando Magic

Dwight Howard
Rashard Lewis
Matt Barnes
Vince Carter
Jameer Nelson

Dallas Mavericks

Brendan Haywood
Dirk Nowitzki
Shawn Marion
Caron Butler
Jason Kidd

In their only meeting this year, The Mavericks overcame an 11-point third quarter deficit and won 95-85. Orlando had just a four-point lead entering the fourth quarter after Dallas scored the final seven points of the third quarter. Dallas then scored 12 straight points to start the final period, using that 19-0 run to build an eight-point lead. The Magic just couldn’t buy a bucket and although the team lost, Magic Head Coach Stan Van Gundy was not unhappy with their effort.

“I didn’t think it was a lack of effort,” Van Gundy said after the February 19th meeting. “I thought we fought hard.”

The Mavericks have an excellent record and have a very talented roster, but by looking at the numbers, you can tell the Mavericks have been fairly lucky this season. They score 101.8 points per game and rank 10th in offensive efficiency (106.8). Defensively, they give up 99.6 points per game and rank 12th in defensive efficiency (103.4). That’s a point differential of just 2.2 points game.

Orlando, who is just two-and-a-half games better than Dallas, outscores their opponents by nearly seven points per game (101.9 to 95.0), rank fifth in offensive efficiency (108.5) and first in defensive efficiency (99.7).

The Dallas offense is run by veteran Jason Kidd, who has been excellent – again. Kidd is scoring 10.1 points per game, but is dishing out 9.2 assists and grabbing 6.9 rebounds per game. He has posted an assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.78-to-1 this season.

MVP candidate Dirk Nowitzki is scoring 24.7 points per game on 47.8% shooting on the season. Nowitzki is also grabbing a 7.6 rebounds per game. Nowitzki has averaged 23.3 points and 8.1 rebounds per game in 21 career games against Orlando. He scored 23 points against the Magic earlier this season.

The Mavericks have three other players that score in double figures – Jason Terry 16.9 points per game, Caron Butler 15.4, and Shawn Marion 12.1.

Dwight Howard has gone on record as calling Mavericks Center Brendan Haywood one of the league’s best defensive players, but Haywood has been no match for Howard this season. Howard scored 29 points, grabbed 16 rebounds and had five blocks against the Mavericks on February 19th.

As mentioned above, Van Gundy was very pleased with Orlando’s effort in the two team’s last meeting despite the loss. The Magic will need a similar effort to defeat a quality team like Dallas on the road and will have to shoot the ball much better (they were 41.4% (36-of-87) from the field and 16.0% (4-of-25) in February against the Mavericks.

(Andrew Melnick is Howard the Dunk’s lead blogger and a contributor at NFL Mocks and Sir Charles In Charge. Subscribe to his RSS feed, add him on Twitter to follow him daily and you can get the HTD app here).