DB.com Mavs Roundtable Donuts: Deep Thoughts
On a scale of 1 to 10 - with 1 being the Big Country Reeves-era Grizzlies, and 10 being the Bill Russell-era Celtics - how concerned are you about the Mavs' first-round opponents, the Oklahoma City Thunder?
Chuck Cooperstein: 7. OKC is a better team than they were last year. They have a little more veteran experience with Perkins and Fisher, and their big guns have now been through it once. They're a terrific offensive team, and the Mavericks defense hasn't been as good in the last month as it's been all season. It needs to return to pre-April form.
Michael Dugat: Once you reach the playoffs, the concern over an opponent should probably never dip below a 5. Every team that's made it this far, especially in the West, is a threat. Oklahoma City has the second best record in the West, a heaping load of talent, and a desire to show they've matured beyond the team that fell to the Mavs in last year's Western Conference Finals. However, of the top 3 seeds, they likely provide the best hope for Dallas to advance.
The playoffs are about matchups, and this is one I like the Mavs chances in. The Thunder still seems to be plagued by the same late-game shortcomings of a season ago.
Unfortunately, the Mavs now appear to share some of these concerns. Still, I'll rate it an 8. It won't be easy, but it's hard not to believe Dallas at least has a chance.
Fish: This will probably serve as a theme for me throughout this Roundtable, because I'm going to play "Homer With A Cause.'' But if we say OKC is a "7'' to Dallas ... what is Dallas to OKC? Also a 7? A 6? A 6.5?
There are indications that this is OKC's time; they have a feel, to me, similar to what the '06 Mavs had. But I'd say each team should be similarly concerned about the other.
Mike Piellucci: Here's the unfortunate reality of this year's Mavericks team; there weren't a lot of matchups that would break in their favor. They can't handle the big bodies of the Lakers or the Grizzlies – going a combined 1-6 against them in the regular season – while both of San Antonio's experience and Chris Paul's brilliance with the Clippers give them all kinds of fits.
Believe it or not, OKC may have been their best bet all along, given Dirk's proclivity for big scoring outbursts against the Thunder and the chasm in experience between the two sides. Yet given how much talent OKC has their disposal plus their appetite for revenge after last year, I can't go lower than a 6.
Chuck Perry: Put me down for a 6. OKC is a team on the rise - that will only get better - and loaded with elite talent on the perimeter. I'll take my chances with Westbrook/KD/Harden against West/Kidd/Marion(/Roddy?). No one on OKC can stop Dirk and the center matchup is essentially a wash.
Among the top three seeds in the West, this is the best Dallas could hope for.
Other than Dirk Nowitzki, which Mavs player will have the greatest impact on Dallas' playoff hopes?
Chuck Cooperstein: Jason Kidd. There's simply no underestimating how his presence is such a calming influence. Whether it to be simply getting the team into the offense correctly, or making a key steal, hitting a key three, or guarding someone he should have no business guarding and somehow making good things happen
Fish: I'm so convinced that a rested (and playing-for-a-contract!) Kidd will play well that I'm about ready to take him as for granted as we take Dirk. Call them "KIDDIRK'' and let me move on to a guy who, if he plays well, mimics not one but two ex-Mavs with rings. Delonte can be a little Barea and a little DeShawn. And if he is, these Mavs are a little more like those Mavs.
Michael Dugat: Much like last season, after the individual of Dirk you find a collective that must come through. You could label Delonte West, Jason Terry, Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, Vince Carter, Roddy Beaubois or Brandan Wright as the "x-factor" guy … and still not name the right guy. In other words, it isn't about just one more guy, but all of them.
Assuming good health, Kidd must come close to mirroring his defensive performance from a year ago while remaining a threat behind the arc. West must break down defenses and prove capable of defending opposing point guards, something he did well in the regular season. Terry must not go through any significant shooting lulls and avoid some of the emotionally driven dumb plays. Marion must be Marion (meaning, continue to be a lockdown defender that can harass Westbrook, Durant or even Harden at times). Carter must play like he has recently, excluding the final game against Atlanta. He must attack the rim and not settle for contested jumpshots. If Roddy plays, he must be aggressive, assertive and under control. He cannot sink into the passive oblivion he sometimes slips into.
Mike Piellucci: The most important defensive player on last year's title team was Tyson Chandler. This year, Shawn Marion, with his otherworldly ability to stick to anyone from point guards to power forwards with equal aplomb, is that guy; point blank, there aren't five better perimeter defenders in the league right now. Not only does ‘Trix need to be every bit as good on that end in the postseason, but he also must shoulder some of the offensive burden like he did in last year's playoffs with performances like his 26-point outburst Game 5 against OKC, or his efficient Game 4 versus the Heat.
But Marion is only averaging 9.4 PPG on 44% shooting after the All-Star break, which isn't going to cut it. If he can't up that total to something in the neighborhood of the 13.3 he averaged in January, Carlisle is going to be forced to debate whether he can even afford to leave his best defender on the floor in crunch time alongside two low output players in Kidd and Haywood, or sacrifice him for offense in the form of Vince Carter. Dallas needs Marion's D to advance; it's up to his O to make sure that stays in the lineup as often as possible.
Chuck Perry: The easy, and probably most correct answer here is Jason Terry. We've seen that Dallas' playoff hopes rise and fall on his timely, and occasionally fleeting, scoring. However I will go with Jason Kidd. He has seemed to age before our eyes this season, but should enter the playoffs rested. If the Mavs can get away with him defending impact wing players for long stretches like they did last year, they have a very good shot to advance. Importantly, if Kidd can remain factor on offense with weakside three's and limiting turnovers, the Dallas attck has a chance to improve on its suddenly-morose offensive efficiency. (8th in 2011, 23rd this season)
Unleash your inner Carlisle - what's your playoff starting five, and nine-man rotation?
Chuck Cooperstein: Starters - Marion, Dirk, Haywood, West and Kidd. Bench - Roddy, Carter, Terry and Wright
Michael Dugat: Starting five: Jason Kidd, Delonte West, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki, Brendan Haywood (who should have some entertainingly physical battles with Kendrick Perkins).
The rest of the nine-man rotation: Jason Terry and Vince Carter first off the bench and then it gets interesting. I see no reason to suddenly limit your choices. Ian Mahinmi and Brandan Wright should both get their chances and I'd hope Roddy at least gets an opportunity to show something … give him 2-5 minutes to show his disposition each game. If you don't like it, dislocate his finger and see how he responds (it worked against Chicago). So, that's 10 deep instead of nine.
Mike Piellucci: This boils down to two fundamental questions – do you start Carter or West alongside Kidd, and do you trust Roddy Beaubois to play extensive minutes in the playoff pressure cooker?
As for the former, I'm decidedly pro-Carter, which is equal parts wanting his offense on the floor at the start of games and also preferring a competent distributor in the second unit in Delonte. Regarding the latter, I'm a decided "no;" for all of Roddy's sporadic brilliance, there's still plenty of mistakes that are exponentially more damning in the postseason. He'll get some opportunities, but JET-Delonte-Wright-Mahinmi is the quartet that should chew up the bulk of the bench minutes.
Fish: Give me West as a starter, with Vince off the bench. Where is Roddy? Where is Ian? Where is B-Wright? No way of knowing until Saturday night ... and once we figure it out, that doesn't mean will have the same answers for Game 2.
Chuck Perry: As of one month ago, the best defensive lineup in the entire NBA consisted of Kidd-Carter-Marion-Nowitzki-Haywood. Given the impact of Deshawn Stevenson's insertion into the playoff starting lineup, I will stick with that unit. For a full justification of that pick, see this ESPN post.
I'm glad you called it a ‘nine-man' rotation, because we've seen Carlisle use the full extent of his bench. I'm sure it will include healthy doses of JET, West, Wright and Mahinmi. Roddy is the wild card here. He's proven his toughness (with the finger dislocation), but does Carlisle trust him enough to give him playoff minutes?
Complete the following sentence: This season should be considered a success if…
Chuck Cooperstein: "… the Mavericks reach the Western Conference Finals."
Michael Dugat: "… the Mavs do enough in the playoffs to ensure Deron Williams still wants to sign here." I'm only half joking. Dallas didn't forfeit this season, but they approached it with a mindful eye on the future, on cap flexibility. However, flexibility is only as good as what it's used for. I'd imagine the uproar over Chandler, Butler and Barea's leaving rises furiously (along with the almost entirely unwarranted complaints of people pointing to the fact that this team has never signed a big-name free agent – ignoring the fact that this is the first time they've had cap space in the Dirk era) if Deron isn't a Mav sometime this summer. Obviously, the Mavs plans don't crumble without Williams and flexibility could continue to be valuable moving forward, but public reaction could be severe.
That said … "success" for a reigning champion should be viewed as another championship.
Mike Piellucci: "…the Mavs sign Deron Williams." Really, it's that simple. Given the demanding nature of playing in this market coupled with last season's success, the only way to appease the masses in the standings would be repeating, something that was never in the cards once they prudently let Tyson Chandler walk in order to preserve long term cap flexibility. If they sign Williams, the championship window pries itself open for another couple of seasons – or as long as Dirk can still pump out premium Dirk seasons; if they don't, they'll occupy the same space they did this years as fringe contender.
Mark Cuban once said that you either want to peak or bottom out, but never be a 40-something win team stuck in the middle; apply this season's 54.5% win percentage to an 82-game slate, and the Mavs would have won 45. Williams is what Dallas needs to push itself back among the NBA's elite.
Chuck Perry: "…Deron Williams signs with Dallas in the offseason." Taking the macrocosmic view, Dallas embarked on a bold personnel strategy that emphasized equal parts "financial flexibility" and "superstar acquisition." Yes, that's not a terribly satisfying playoff-focused answer, but it's the truth. Had Dallas followed convention and retained their free agents, I'd argue they would likely be higher than 7th in the Conference and facing such a difficult first-round opponent. However, they'd have no shot at a superstar. That was clearly the goal and it cannot be realistically argued that Dallas made its moves with the intent of improving this year's squad. If success is defined as goal fulfillment, then I'd say that's a success.
If you want a playoff-centric answer: given that Dallas likely must face OKC-LAL-SAS in that order, I'd say winning 1-2 of those series is a success.
Fish: I've been a Mavs follower for 22 years. I've been a Vikings follower essentially since the inception of the franchise. So ONE championship is, to me, a gargantuan deal.
Therefore, I'm pretty fat and happy. That banner is a magic carpet. Those rings are holy grails. If and when Dallas doesn't repeat, and some Spurs or Thunder fans write me nasty letters using fat crayons, as they so often do, I can comfortably respond by rote:
"Don't Care. Won Championship.''
How deep in the playoffs do these Mavs ultimately go?
Chuck Cooperstein: I believe they will beat OKC but will lose to the Lakers in the second round.
Michael Dugat: I don't believe I'm being pessimistic when I say I haven't seen that intangible spark we raved so much about in last year's squad, that talent multiplier known as "chemistry," at least not in matching abundance. With the collection of wills and basketball knowledge on this team I also wouldn't be surprised as some to see them put together a strong push deep into the playoffs.
Here is where my mind and heart tangle. Last year I made my predictions from the heart and it worked out ok. So, this year I'll do the same thing and say championship … or, I want to say that. My mind just won't let me this time around. I'm going to say they lose in 6 in the second round to the Lakers … but hey, that means I picking them to beat OKC. So, there's that.
Mike Piellucci: I hate to be a downer, but this feels like a one-and-done postseason. Of course, many of us were in the same boat last season, too, but this year's team has less offense, less ball movement, less chemistry, less depth, less interior defense – and a much, much tougher first round opponent. The Mavs definitely can beat Oklahoma City, but unfortunately I just don't see it happening.
Chuck Perry: Given that they will once again enter most of their series as underdogs, I would say they should be expected to go out in the first round. However, I was wrong with the same prediction last year. Dallas matches up well with Oklahoma City, who has absolutely no answer for Nowitzki. If pressed, I'd say Dallas makes it to the second round.
Fish: Isn't the only truly scary team in the NBA -- I mean, the one that can overwhelm you with Hall-of-Fame talent in its prime -- the Miami Heat? And isn't that who the Mavs semi-recently beat the hell out of for a title?
I'm going to let others in MavsLand fear the falling sky. I'm going to let others hit me and you guys on Twitter and go on DB.com Boards and proclaim the Mavs dead. Somebody else can win that race. Not me. When the bandwagon is out of gas, I'll make sure to park it safely and lock it off. 'Cause I'll be the last one off.
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