Mavs icon Dirk Nowitzki will make his preseason debut tonight

I asked Dirk Nowitzki on Friday morning if tonight is his night (to make his preseason debut). 'I think so!' he said. So it's on. Hawks at Mavs and what to look for:

 The bulk of the Mavs' starters will be unavailable for tonight's preseason  visit from the Hawks (7:30 at the AAC, no TV, Coop with the call on 103.3 ESPN) ... but the backbone of the Mavs will be available.

I asked Dirk Nowitzki on Friday morning if tonight is his night (to make his preseason debut). 'I think so!' he said.

Moments later, coach Rick Carlisle confirmed the news, saying, "Dirk is going to play for us tonight, and that is good.''

Nowitzki, 37, has been ramping his way up to NBA speed since playing in EuroBasket for his native Germany. The 13-time All-Star entered full-contact practice in the last few days and while this decision to have him start has nothing to do with the  Mavericks' 0-3 preseason mark or the fact that the opponent is a 60-win Atlanta team ... it certainly helps Dallas' overall outlook.

 “We know that this is a very good team, and you’ve got to play hard and you’ve got to keep playing defensively through the 24-second clock, because they keep playing and they keep making plays,'' Carlisle said of the Hawks. They’re very skilled. They’ve got big guys that are very smart and can make a lot of point-guard type of basketball plays. And they’re extremely challenging to guard.”

Nowitzki will be involved in the front-court challenge of Al Horford and Paul Millsap. Maybe Tunesian center Salah Mejri will be part of the solution there, too, as he's receiving solid reviews now that he's recovered from a break in his leg sustained during overseas play.

Carlisle provided another update on another center, JaVale McGee (leg), saying, "He's getting close to going live (in practice),'' and if there is real progress there, we might have a real story here. Other Mavs who won't go tonight: Felton (hamstring), Matthews (Achilles), Parsons (right knee), Deron (calf) and Powell (elbow).

In the backcourt, Dallas is likely to continue to lean on John Jenkins, a former Hawk who has 20.3 points per game, best among NBA shooting guards in this preseason. He'll know the Hawks well ... but so does Carlisle.

“They (give you) a lot of problems to deal with,'' Rick said. "It’s another good team to play in exhibition season.”

And while Dallas has some of its own problems to deal with, it figures to be fun to watch Dirk ... one of the Dallas solutions.

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