In preparation for tonight's game we did a little back and forth with Jonathan Tjarks of SBN's Dallas regional site. Here's the link to.his questions and our answers. The inverse here:
BE: What's up with Dirk? Did he just win a title and shift it into cruise control? What's the status there and how do Mavs fans feel about the slow start?
SBNDALLAS: The lockout affected his off-season routine, whichis a big deal for a player whose game depends so much on timing. But after a decade of pretty much being a 24/7basketball machine, it would only have been natural for Dirk to stop and smell the roses a bit.
Really the big thing has just been the sheer number of games this season. Dirk is 33 and he's played in over 1,200 playoff and regular games; this is not a guy who should be playing five nights a week. There's been a lot of nights where he's had no lift in his legs whatsoever.
The good thing is Dallas is much deeper offensively than they were last year, so they can afford for Dirk to go on cruise control. And as long as he gets enough rest by the playoffs, Dirk's going to be at the bottom of the list of concerns for Mavs fans.
BE: Can you clarify exactly how and why the Mavericks won their title? One of the things I am already sick of in this season is pundits, fans, and media folks saying, "This team could be the next Dallas Mavericks" as if the only (or most important) criterion which won them their rings was surprise. Every half-heralded team all of a sudden gets a championship mention because people weren't talking about Dallas last year before they won it. Other than flying under the radar, what contributed most to the Mavericks' success? There had to be some solid, long-term underpinnings there.
SBND: There was a lot of talk about how Dirk overcame his post-season demons last year but really he's been the same player for almost a decade. Dallas has won 50+ games for 11 straight seasons, and that's while building three different elite teams around Dirk -- the Nash/Finley/Dirk"Big Three", the Avery Johnson helmed '06 Finals team and the 2011 title squad.
The difference last year was Dirk finally had an elite defensive center in Tyson Chandler. Dirk and Chandler were a perfect combination: the most versatile offensive 7'0 in the NBA and the most versatile defensive 7'0. Chandler was absolutely incredible for Dallas last season: he could shut down guys like Griffin and Amare on the perimeter, check Bynum and Gasol on the low block and cut off LeBron and Wade's penetration at the rim.
The Mavericks won for the same reason the Celtics and the Lakers won: they dominated the paint with two 7'0 guys. The NBA has become obsessed with perimeter players in the post MJ era, but realistically, the closer you are to the basket, the easier it is to score, so the teams with tall and athletic players who can control the paint are going to have a huge advantage.
Dallas was not as talented as Miami or OKC but they had talent in more important places on the court, which is why I took a flyer on them at 16:1 last February to win it all. This year, honestly, I think the one team who can copy the Mavericks run is Portland, with Aldridge in the Dirk role and Camby in the Chandler role.
BE: The obvious: How do you feel about the chances of repeating this year? Has anything changed which makes you think the road will be harder or easier?
SBND: The second Chandler walked out the door, the Mavericks chances of repeating went down to zero. Dallas made a lot of smart moves after letting Chandler walk, and they're still going to be a real tough out in the Western Conference playoffs, but I'd consider the WCF a real accomplishment.
BE: If the team doesn't make it all the way, at what point do they tear it down? At some point the formula of Nowitzki + Ancient Guards + High Profile Free Agent Small Forward + Serviceable Center that the Mavericks seem to employ every year or two has to break down. Do you foresee a future in which they reset?
SBND: What everyone in Dallas is talking about is the summer of 2012. If you assume they amnesty Haywood, the only players under contract are Dirk, Marion, Beaubois, Brandan Wright and Dominique Jones. I'm not sure exactly about the math but that gives them enough room to offer Howard and Deron Williams near-max money. And if the Netsand the Magic hold on to them all season, I don't see another team offering a more attractive supporting cast for those guys. Williams is from Dallas, so there's that too.
It's a lot of ifs obviously, and I would have rather had kept Chandler and just pursued Williams in 2012, but it's definitely something to keep an eye on.
BE: What's the biggest barometer of the Mavericks' success so far this season? How do we know if they're having a good game (outside of the scoreboard, of course)?
SBND: Dallas needs either West or Beaubois to give them dribble penetration and create open shots, otherwise the offense is way too stagnant.
Defensively, Haywood is pretty much done, so they need either Mahinmi or Brandan Wright to give them minutes at the 5 position.
Wright, in particular, has really come on in the last few weeks. He was a McDonald's All-American and a lottery pick out of UNC for a reason: he's 6'10 with a 7'3 wingspan,really athletic and coordinated. That's enough to merit a spot in most teams rotations.
Thanks to our friends at the Dallas regional affiliate for taking us deeper inside the Mavericks and this matchup!