Chris Paul couldn’t think of a better way for his Hornets to open the preseason. “A team in our division that we play four times a year and that went to the finals,” Paul figured. “It’ll be a good measure for us. I definitely look at it as a test.” The Western Conference champion Dallas Mavericks should serve as just that when they visit the Ford Center tonight at 7. The Hornets will test run their revamped roster against a team that won 60 games last season and came within two wins of capturing the NBA title. “I think it’s good to play against a team that good,” said Hornets coach Byron Scott. “You get a little bit of an idea of where you are. Once that game is over you say, ‘Hey, we’re not that far away. Or, we still got a long way to go.’ ” Scott said he would not play his starters more than 20 minutes tonight, giving them the bulk of their time in the first and third quarters. Newly acquired forward Peja Stojakovic might not go at all after dealing with cramps and muscle soreness the past two days. Scott said he could play as many as 12 guys to get a feel for what his reserves can contribute. But the challenges should still be aplenty, even for the regulars. The first objective for the Hornets, albeit easier to accomplish against the runand-gun Mavs, is to create and maintain the up-tempo pace at which they want to play this season. The second goal is to do that with some sort of cohesiveness while integrating seven new players, two of which —Stojakovic and Tyson Chandler — are starters. Then comes the defensive task of stopping the Mavs, who averaged 100.5 points against the Hornets last year. The Hornets couldn’t contain Dallas’ big three of Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry or Josh Howard in any of the teams’ four matchups a year ago. So when both teams’ first strings are on the floor, it should be a good gauge at how improved the Hornets are defensively. “We know what we need to do in terms of our development as a basketball team,” said David West, last year’s leading scorer and rebounder. “We just got to be able to put it together when we get out there (tonight). “We became a more talented basketball team, but I think we became a smarter basketball team as well. We have smarter basketball IQs. (Training) camp really went a lot quicker, and we were a lot more advanced than I think the coaches expected. The rest of the preseason, we’ll be able to get a look at some of the things we put in and see what other steps we need to take.” Paul, though, cautioned against placing too much emphasis on the preseason, something he failed to do last year when he was as green as a blade of grass. “I approached every game in the preseason last year like it was the finals,” said Paul, the reigning rookie of the year. “And I realized when that first (regular season) game came it was totally different.” Paul then noted that difference, saying no matter how well or poorly the Hornets’ regulars play tonight they could be a completely different unit by the Nov. 1 regular season opener at Boston. And different, too, by March 1. “I’ve learned that it’s a few different seasons,” Paul said. “Preseason is one season. The regular season is another. “I haven’t been to the playoffs, but I heard the playoffs is another. And (Dwyane) Wade said the finals is another season. And it’s a whole other season after the all-star break.”
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Stojakovic might sit out tonight Peja Stojakovic might miss tonight’s Hornets preseason opener against the Dallas Mavericks at the Ford Center because of stiffness and soreness in his legs. Stojakovic, the threetime All-Star and eight-year veteran who the Hornets acquired in an offseason trade with Indiana, sat out of the team’s final two scrimmages Sunday and Monday while receiving treatment on his left thigh. Hornets coach Byron Scott said Stojakovic’s availability for tonight’s game will depend on how he feels today. “I just have muscle stiffness,” Stojakovic said after Monday’s practice at the Ford Center. “I had it (Sunday) late in practice, and (Monday morning) I tried to go and didn’t want to risk anything. “It’s nothing to be concerned about. But you’d rather be careful. I don’t want to do anything (to risk it) right now.” Scott, who also didn’t seem worried about the injury, said forward Rasual Butler would start in Stojakovic’s place if need be. The Hornets acquired the 6-foot-10 Stojakovic because of his sharpshooting ability. Stojakovic, a career 39.9 percent shooter from 3, is 22nd on the NBA’s all-time 3-point field goals made list.