1. Who is the best teammate Dirk Nowitzki has ever had?
Gutierrez: The hodgepodge of players such as Michael Finley, Jason Terry, Shawn Marion, Josh Howard, O.J. Mayo, Monta Ellis and Tyson Chandler leaves a very mixed bag to select from. It also shines a light on the fact Nowitzki has had to carry the load in Dallas without legitimate, surefire star support. It comes down to Steve Nash, before the point guard hit his MVP stride, and Jason Kidd, returning after he had passed his prime. Nash was the perfect teammate for Nowitzki earlier in his career, and Kidd was just as perfect later in Nowitzki’s career. I’m going to go with Kidd. While Nash could shoot the lights out, Kidd had the better all-around game out of the two point guards. As Nash helped Nowitzki grow as a player, Kidd helped guide him to immortality as a champion.
Taylor: Jason Terry has to be the best teammate Dirk has had because he usually played his best in the biggest games and he had no fear. The two-man game between Jet and Dirk was as nasty as it gets, and their feel for each other was uncanny. The Mavs have one championship, and they wouldn't have it without Jet, which trumps any other argument you might make. Dirk was terrific in the NBA Finals, but Jet put on a show in Game 6 when it was really all on the line and Dirk was struggling.
MacMahon: Finley and Nash are the only players to make multiple All-Star appearances as Nowitzki’s teammates, with two selections apiece. Of course, Nash’s career peaked after returning to Phoenix, winning the MVP the next two seasons. He still had four fantastic seasons when paired with Nowitzki after a slow start. Dirk got his ring, but it’s still hard not to wonder what might have been if Nash never left Dallas.
2. What was the biggest factor during the Mavs' winning streak?
Gutierrez: The fact that they’re playing inferior competition is a big deal, but there are some positive trends in play, too. Nowitzki is shooting the lights out, everyone is getting accustomed to their roles and they’re avoiding catastrophic turnovers. To me, the biggest thing they’re doing is boxing out and grabbing rebounds. They’re 12-3 when they outrebound their opponent this season. There is a dramatic difference in their play when they’re active and finish off defensive possessions with a rebound. The chance to negate one, two or three-point swings going against them by collecting rebounds and getting out and running in transition is huge. Their team defense is still suspect, so any opportunity to prevent additional possessions by the opponent is huge. It looks like the Mavericks are getting the message that rebounding the ball is key to their success.
Taylor: The Mavericks have been one of the best offensive teams all season. When they've been able to put winning streaks together it's because their defense has been good. The problem, of course, is that with Jose Calderon, Ellis and Nowitzki as core players they can't sustain their defensive intensity. We saw that last night against Charlotte. They can be good for a few games, but asking them to be consistently good on defense is just not going to happen. Charlotte has scored more than 95 points twice in the last 17 games. Both times have come against the Mavs. If Dallas misses the playoffs it’s going to look back at all these losses to bad Eastern Conference teams and know exactly why they're at home.
MacMahon: The Mavs did a lot of things well during the streak, but all they really did was beat a bunch of teams that they should. The Grizzlies were the only foe of the five with a winning record, and they were missing point guard Mike Conley, who was a legitimate All-Star candidate. Other than that, the Mavs beat up on a bunch of bad teams. The other four opponents during the Mavs’ streak have a combined winning percentage of .351. They feasted during a stretch of schedule when they were supposed to get fat.
3. Has Samuel Dalembert earned trust with his recent performances?
Gutierrez: No. A run of consistency is great, but that doesn’t allow anyone to ignore the wave of inconsistency he showed over the first half of the season. His activity level is up by leaps and bounds as of late, but this has been his M.O. over the course of his career. Dalembert shows enough to tease a team or a GM and then quickly disappears. A couple of weeks of solid basketball by him doesn’t turn me into a quick believer. If anything, he’s shown me he can do it, so I need to see more of it before I catch Dalembert fever.
Taylor: Call me when Dalembert has played well for a month or his alarm clock works for 30 straight days. We know Dalembert is one of the keys to the Mavs, which is scary because he's as inconsistent as a player can be. I have zero faith he can play consistently well. The Mavs simply need to take advantage of it on the nights he does play well. Every starter in the NBA is capable of having stretches of quality play. Consistency is what separates the average from good and good from great.
MacMahon: Well, he sure flunked the Al Jefferson test. Dalembert was a nonfactor while the Bobcats big man dominated the Mavs, putting up 30 points on 14-of-23 shooting. If the Mavs are being honest, they’d admit that their hope for Dalembert is that he shows up most of the time. It’s almost miraculous that he strung together four straight good performances.