by Marcel Mutoni

The Mavs return to the Bay Area tonight, as they attempt to exorcise some of the demons from last season’s humiliating Playoff defeat to the Warriors.

Some of the key players during that epic series won’t be present tonight (Stephen Jackson is serving a seven-game suspension; Jason Richardson is in Charlotte) but the atmosphere will no doubt be electric. Hell, Magic Johnson, only one of the game’s great ambassadors, has already suggested that Dirk Nowitzki inflict violence on one of the Warriors during the game (not gonna happen, obviously).

The Mavs sort of have to win tonight, don’t they? A loss and questions about their team’s toughness and its ability to overcome adversity will have to be answered immediately (instead of during the Playoffs); as it happens, all of the pressure is on them this evening, and the Warriors know it:

“I think ever since they lost they’ve been waiting for this game, just to kind of get it off their chests,” Baron Davis said.

“I think Dallas has more to prove then we do,” suspended forward Stephen Jackson said. “We’re trying to get to a point where we’re playing well and we’re able to win a game.”

“Oh yeah,” forward Josh Howard told reporters in Dallas. “You know we’re going to want this win bad, especially on their home court. For them to beat us, they came out on fire, but it’s a new year, new things and we’re going to go out there and get a win.”

It’s not often that you get a must-watch regular season game, let alone one this early in the year. In short, you’d be crazy to miss tonight’s tilt (10:30 PM EST, TNT).