- Tim MacMahon, ESPN Staff Writer
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How should Rick Carlisle react if Samuel Dalembert is late again?
Gutierrez: The Mavs are kind of damned if they do and damned if they don't. If it happens again, waiving him is an option, but Mark Cuban would be hurting the team by taking away the lone proven defensive big man. Letting him hang around after another tardiness just sends a mixed signal to the rest of the locker room. Dallas can try to pursue options in the trade market, but it's likely to produce slim pickings. It's a tough spot for the Mavericks, honestly. The only reasonable answer I can come up with is a substantial suspension if it happens again.
Taylor: This is interesting because Dalembert alluded to having some issues with his sleep pattern getting disrupted and forcing him to oversleep. I've had relatives that sleep so deep you literally have to shove them or sprinkle them with water to wake them up, so I understand fundamentally he could have a legitimate issue. They've tried to set up a multi-layered alarm system and he seems genuinely remorseful. The Mavs should take the Cowboys' approach with Dez Bryant and have someone pick him up and bring him to practice, and Dalembert should have to pay whatever it costs. Since they like him there's nothing really to do except suspend him for a game every time it happens.
MacMahon: Sorry, but I'm skeptical about Dalembert's supposed sleeping issues. There are reasons that Dalembert is playing for his fifth team in five seasons. The Mavs were well aware of this when they signed him. It's part of the deal for Dalembert, who was suspended by the Milwaukee Bucks during their trip to Dallas last season because he overslept for shootaround. If he gets his third strike with the Mavs, he has to be out for at least a game with no pay. If it continues happening, they'll need to keep hitting him in the pocket. But the Mavs need Dalembert's defensive presence too much to consider cutting him.
Is Monta Ellis' recent statistical dip just a bump in the road or a regression to the mean?
Gutierrez: It certainly looks like a regression, but there are multiple angles in play. This was the concern I had about Ellis' attacking game. By getting to the rim, make or miss, he's putting his body through a lot. It doesn't look as if he's dealing with any substantial injuries, but the wear and tear is going to have an overall impact on his game. In addition, the opposition is scheming to take away Ellis' strengths. A season is all about peaks and valleys, so it's up to Ellis to get things back in order. On the plus side, this regression to the mean still looks better than the one that was going on during O.J. Mayo's rough patch last season.
Taylor: He's human and he's not a superstar, so we should've expected his performance to dip a tad. Ellis has been a good player for the Mavs and he'll continue to be productive. As long as he's taking good shots and not taking bad shots, he'll ultimately be fine. I'd worry a lot more about the raggedy defense and the spotty rebounding than Ellis.
MacMahon: Ellis isn't as bad as he looked last season in Milwaukee, when he was unhappy and essentially just waiting for his contract to expire. He's probably not as good as he looked in his first month with the Mavs, at least not on a consistent basis after opponents have had a chance to study the ways he was excelling early this season. A reasonable hope is that Ellis can average 20 points and shoot 45 percent from the field, which are what his numbers for the season are right now. If he does that, he'll be a decent bargain at $8 million per season, if not the steal he appeared to be after a month.
Dirk Nowitzki clarified his doubts about the Mavs' playoff chances, saying he meant only that they won't make the playoffs if they keep blowing big leads. Is this a playoff team?
Gutierrez: In my opinion, the competition for the No. 7 and No. 8 seeds in the West is starting to thin out. Despite Kevin Love's beast of a season, Minnesota is stuck hovering around .500. Denver is still a mess, and New Orleans seems to be snake bit by injuries this season. If the Mavs can avoid injuries, even with their shortcomings on the defensive end, they'll be a playoff team. That said, Dallas should aim to make a second trip on the road during its first-round matchup. Remember, that wasn't something the Mavs were able to do as they were swept against Oklahoma City in 2012.
Taylor: Every team goes through lulls. The Mavs are still a playoff team because Dirk, Shawn Marion, Vince Carter and Ellis are veteran players who will ensure they get there with their mental toughness. This trend of blowing big leads is troubling, but this is still primarily a jump-shooting team. Add that to bad defense and suspect rebounding and it's easy to see why opponents feel as if they're never out of the game. The Western Conference is tough, but the Mavs will have enough to get a seventh or eighth seed when it's all said and done.
MacMahon: If I had to put money down, I'd bet on the Mavs making the playoffs, but it wouldn't be with much confidence. I'm not so quick to dismiss the Timberwolves, Pelicans or even the Memphis Grizzlies, who will be a much better team once Marc Gasol gets healthy. I see the Mavs having to scrap until the final week of the regular season to punch their playoff ticket.