Wizards vs. Mavericks preview: Can Washington rise above .500?

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Wizards host the Dallas Mavericks in a New Year's Day showdown. Here's what you need to know.

The Washington Wizards are .500 and all is right with the world. Everyone is playing well, none of the top eight or so rotation players are hurt, and the wind seems to be at the team's back after winning five of their last six games. The Dallas Mavericks, though, are better than anyone the team has faced since they lost to the Clippers on December 14th. Let's see how this one goes.

Where and when? Gametime is at 6 p.m. - yes, that's right, six o'clock tonight - at the Verizon Center.

Are they good? That's the perfect word to describe this team, 'good'. Dallas is 18-13 with the NBA's seventh best offense and 19th best defense on a per-possession basis. Dirk Nowitzki is still a beast, Monta Ellis is playing the best basketball of his career, and the rest of the team is made up of functional if unspectacular role players who would start on a bad team or come off the bench on a good one. Dallas will probably win 40-50 games this year, but without another elite player, they're not going to do much in the postseason.

Who's out? Al Harrington and Glen Rice Jr. are sitting for the Wizards. Dallas is going to be missing Devin Harris and possibly Wayne Ellington.

What are they good at? Dallas has one of the most skilled offenses in the NBA. Nowitzki can get an efficient shot off at will, regardless of who is guarding him, and the defensive attention he draws as a result makes everything easier for the rest of the team. Furthermore, Jose Calderon and the still alive and kicking Vince Carter are excellent jump shooters who can make the most of the kickouts they as a result of Dirk's post ups and Ellis' drives. As a result, Dallas is second in the NBA in points per possession on both post ups and spot up jumpers per MySynergySports. Trevor Booker and Nene have their work cut out for them tonight.

What are they bad at? The Mavericks' defense has never recovered from Tyson Chandler leaving the team for New York a few years ago. Dallas is giving up 106.7 points per possession, 19th in the NBA, and is the league's 22nd worst team at defending pick and roll roll men per MySynergySports. Their lack of length is what really kills them here. Samuel Dalembert has always been almost Javale McGee-esque in his ability to put up the blocks and rebounds of an elite defender while having a much smaller effect than expected on the defense's bottom line. Dallas' defense is 0.6 points per 100 possessions worse with Dalembert on the court despite his primary alternate, Dejuan Blair, being shorter and less of a jumper than many shooting guards. There's not much Dallas can do here, they simply lack a legitimate rim protecting center who has the talent to be more than a backup.

Who's going to win? I think Dallas wins this one, largely because no one on the Wizards has the length and skill level to guard Nowtzki. Nene is the key to tonight's game, he's Washington's best post defender and the only player on the team who's big, mobile and disciplined enough when it comes to biting on pump fakes to make Dirk work for his 20-some points. Wall should have a big game and could off for a lot of points, too, since there's no one on the Mavericks to contest his layups. Nontheless, Dallas is probably the better team and I expect that they'll outlast the Wizards tonight.

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