By Spike Eskin

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Though it doesn’t count in the win or loss column, national respect means something. The Sixers, with their best start since they went to the NBA Finals in 2001, have a chance to earn some of that respect tonight against the Dallas Mavericks. Airing on ESPN at 8pm, It will be the Sixers’ first nationally televised game of the season.

The Mavericks began the season getting blown out on their home court by the Miami Heat on Christmas day, and followed it up by getting blown out by the Denver Nuggets at home as well. A 1-4 start left many doubting that they had any chance of repeating as NBA champs. They appear to have righted the ship though, and come in having won five in a row, most recently beating those same Nuggets by 18 on Wednesday. With wins over the Clippers and the Trail Blazers as well, they’ve faced some real competition during the win streak.

The Sixers come in after a loss in Orlando, a game that they fell behind early in and were never able to make up the difference. It was the one loss in a three game road trip that also included wins in Charlotte and Cleveland. After tonight’s game, they’ll head out for three more away from home, before they break for NBA’s All-Star weekend.

Tonight will be a battle of the benches, with the two teams having the top scoring reserves in the league. The Sixers bench scores more than any other in the NBA, at 43.9 points per game, with the Mavericks right behind them at 43.7. Depth has been an advantage for the Sixers with the compacted schedule, with the bench often times out-performing the starters.

Injuries have taken their toll on both teams, even with their depth. The Mavericks will be without shooting guard Delonte West, who suffered a fractured and dislocated finger in Wednesday night’s game. They’ll also be missing sixth-man Jason Terry with a quad strain, and could be without guard Rodrigue Beaubois, whose father passed away on Wednesday. The injuries will force Jason Kidd and Vince Carter, both toward the end of their careers, to play more minutes.

While the Mavericks are hurting in the backcourt, the Sixers still have some injuries to deal with in the frontcourt. Center Spencer Hawes is still out with an Achilles injury, which will keep him from playing until at least the All Star break. Elton Brand will play, but is still feeling the effects of a sprained thumb. Brand did play well in the Sixers’ Wendesday night loss in Orlando. Rookies Lavoy Allen and Nikola Vucevic will continue to get the majority of the Hawes’ minutes.

The job of guarding Dirk Nowitzki will likely be a group effort, shared by Brand, Thaddeus Young, and perhaps even Andre Iguodala. The seven-foot tall Nowitzki, is a match-up problem for almost everyone. Brand will likely have trouble guarding him on the perimeter, and he’s got a size advantage over all three of them.

Tickets are still available and can be purchased at The game can be heard live on 94 WIP at 8pm.

Listen to an interview with Dallas Mavericks announcer Chuck Cooperstein: