1. After seeing him for half a season so far, what is your assessment on Rick Carlisle? How has the team changed from when Avery was coach?
I was a big fan of the Little General during his time here, but it became clear towards the end of last season that the players were growing weary of his “dictatorship.” It all culminated with a quick first round exit and an even quicker firing of Johnson. The team then brought in Carlisle with the hopes that he would make the offense a little more versatile and allow Jason Kidd to hold the reins every once in a while, something Johnson failed to do. It wasn’t until recently that Carlisle handed over the majority of the playcalling to Kidd, and so far the results have been mostly positive. Carlisle also made it a priority when he came in to do everything he could to make Dirk Nowitzki’s job easier. That’s also been a success, as Nowitzki is having one of his best seasons ever, especially in the scoring department.
On the other hand, I think the team’s overall commitment to defense has suffered since Avery Johnson left, but that’s been somewhat offset by their offense, which has been above average. In the end I think this is still a good team but one that can’t beat the league’s elite unless they play more consistently on the defensive end. It’s up to Rick to make that happen.
2. This is a question I’m sure you answer quite a bit. After seeing the season Devin Harris has had, do you wish you could find a time machine somewhere and do everything in your power to stop that trade from happening or have you been happy with Jason Kidd?
I thought Harris would be a very good player, but not this good. He’s become New Jersey’s number one option on offense and is proving to be one of the best young point guards in the league. I would absolutely love to have him here in Dallas, and if I could go back to last season and rescind that trade I probably would. But Jason Kidd is having a pretty darn good season in Dallas, and I think his presence is one of the big reasons why Nowitzki is playing so well. I doubt that Harris would be able to put up the kind of numbers he’s posting as a Net now if he had stayed a Maverick, simply because there’s not too many more shots to go around with Nowitzki, Josh Howard and Jason Terry as the team’s main options. But who knows…
3. Dallas is currently sitting at 7th in the West. Is this where you expected them to be in a very tough Western conference?
Yeah, I think so. Before the season I predicted that they would finish in sixth, ahead of the Suns and Blazers, and that’s certainly still within reach. They have a realistic shot to finish as high as third and get homecourt advantage in the first round. Unfortunately they also could just as easily finish in ninth and miss the playoffs completely. Outside of the Lakers and Spurs, the West is so jampacked third through ninth that nothing would really surprise me at this point.
4. If they stay at 7 and the Spurs stay at 2, we’ll see a Spurs-Mavs first round series, which we could see a preview of tonight. How do you see that series playing out.
I’m really hoping for Mavs-Spurs in the first round, as I think it could be another classic similar to the epic second round series in 2006 that went seven games. Unfortunately these Mavericks aren’t as good as the team that made it all the way to the NBA Finals that year, but I still believe that Dallas could make it interesting should they meet in the first round. As long as San Antonio has a healthy Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Tim Duncan, they should be able to take care of Dallas in six games. These teams know each other very well and that’s why I think the Mavs could maybe steal a game on the road, but the Spurs are too good and too well coached to lose in a seven game series to Dallas.
5. Three-part question. Do you think Kidd will be able to limit Parker’s penetration. What is your key matchup and your prediction for tonight?
Jason Kidd is a decent defender, but I’m sorry…he’s got no shot at limiting Parker’s quickness and keeping him out of the paint. It’s going to be up to Erick Dampier to guard the basket and keep Tony from getting all the way to the rim.
Both teams are missing a key player (the Spurs won’t have Ginobili, and Dallas is still missing Jason Terry), which makes this game a little harder to predict. The Mavs need to get out on the break and force San Antonio’s aging wings (Bruce Bowen and Michael Finley) to play some transition defense. That’s why I’m going to be watching Bowen against Josh Howard. Typically Ginobili is the one that guards Howard the most, so I’d look for the Mavs to go to Howard early and often as they normally do.
As I said before, Dallas has to play well on the defensive end, and if they can do it for the entire game I think they can win. The Mavs’ regulars should be rested for tonight’s game, while the Spurs are returning home for their first game at the AT&T Center since January 31. I expect a tight, relatively low-scoring game, but I’m going out on a limb and picking the Mavs in this one, 91-88.