1. What odds do you give the Mavs of winning a playoff series?
Gutierrez: It really depends on the opponent they draw in the first round. I think it’s incredibly low, hovering around 15-20 percent, if they end up having to face Oklahoma City or San Antonio in the first round. That’s why it’s incredibly important for them to hold on to the sixth spot in the West. If they hold on and face someone like the Trail Blazers or Rockets, I still don’t put them as a favorite to win a series, but I will say their chances improve dramatically. As of right now, putting a percentage on it, I’d say it hovers around 30-40 percent in terms of odds to win a series if they are the sixth seed in the West.
Taylor: Considering the Mavs seem destined to finish sixth, seventh or eighth in the West, I'd say the odds of the Mavs winning a playoff series are about 10 percent. Oklahoma City, San Antonio and Houston each have such good offenses that it would be difficult for the Mavs to win a series against any of those three teams. The Mavs' defense is so bad overall that it would be difficult to shut down either of those three teams and win a series. The Mavs won't make it easy, and their first-round opponent will have to do some work but the real question is whether the Mavs could win more than two games in a first-round series.
MacMahon: I’d give the Mavs a puncher’s chance against Portland or Houston, but that’s it as far as potential playoff foes. And it doesn’t look likely that either of those teams will be a top-three seed. If the Mavs get matched up with the Thunder or Spurs, the question isn’t whether the Mavs can win the series. It’s whether they can win a playoff game for the first time since the title-clincher in Miami.
2. Where will the Mavs finish in the West standings?
Gutierrez: I think their schedule dictates that they are due for a fall. The schedule is rather favorable in February but becomes monstrous in March. Facing teams like Oklahoma City (twice) Portland, Indiana, Golden State among others mean that losses are going to come. That’s not to say that they’re going to lose all of them, but loses are coming. Golden State’s struggles this season have been surprising to an extent, but they’re too talented and explosive to be held down. I think they start to hit their stride as the season winds down. It’s a fight between the Mavericks, Warriors and Suns for positioning, with the Grizzlies being on the outside looking in. When the dust settles, the Mavericks end up making the playoffs, but I think they wind up being the seventh seed in the West.
Taylor: The Mavs dropped from sixth to eighth with one loss. I'd say when the season ends they're going to be seventh. The biggest task for the Mavs is to beat the teams they're supposed to beat. They can't really afford any more losses to the dredges of the league.
MacMahon: I’ve been surprised by two things on this subject over the last couple of months. I expected Phoenix to fade and Golden State to make a push for a top-four seed. The Suns have held strong despite Eric Bledsoe’s absence, and the Warriors have been the West’s biggest underachievers. The Mavs’ playoff seed -- and let’s not just dismiss the possibility of the Grizzlies grabbing a spot from one of these teams -- could come down to tie-breakers with the Suns and Warriors. The Mavs have split with the Warriors so far and still see them at home and on the road. They are 1-1 against the Suns, whose only remaining meeting with the Mavs is April 12 in Dallas. As tight as the West is, that could be the difference between a sixth seed and a lottery pick. I’ll wager on the Mavs finishing seventh.
3. Who is the biggest X factor for the Mavs the rest of the season?
Gutierrez: I’m not really sure how it’s not Samuel Dalembert. It’s an exaggeration to say that this team can score in its sleep, but they’re really efficient on the offensive end of the floor. That means that the emphasis continues to be place on the defensive end of the floor. Dallas continues to be a dramatically different team when they have an active and motivated Dalembert. Rick Carlisle and the players will openly tell you that things are different when he plays well. If he can bring any form on positive and consistent play for the final stretch of the season, Dallas has a chance to sustain its pace. That said, it’s a dangerous proposition to depend on the enigmatic center.
Taylor: It pains me to say this because he hasn't earned our trust, but Samuel Dalembert is the Mavs' X factor. There is noticeable difference in the way the Mavs defend when he's on the court and playing well. The problem, of course, is that we never know when that's going to happen. We know what almost every other player gives the Mavs on a nightly basis. We have no idea what Dalembert will do.
MacMahon: OK, this one was a layup with Dalembert, but I’ll discuss another X factor: Vince Carter. The Mavs are a tough team to beat when Carter brings efficient scoring off the bench. Dallas is 14-6 when Carter shoots at least 45 percent from the floor this season. Conversely, they’re 10-13 when he shoots less than 35 percent. The Mavs’ biggest challenge is being able to hold their ground when Dirk sits down. For better or worse, Carter is a huge part of that.