1. Dirk Nowitzki readily called his buzzer-beater to beat the Knicks “probably the ugliest game-winner I ever shot.” What’s your favorite Dirk clutch bucket?
Gutierrez: There’s so many to pick from. His and-one layup in Game 7 of the 2006 conference semis against San Antonio and his beard-driven 3 last season against Chicago were so fantastic. Out of those two, I’m taking the Chicago game because he was such a monster in that fourth quarter. That takes the silver medal to his go-ahead 3-point bucket with 26.7 seconds left of Game 2 of the 2011 Finals against Miami. The Mavericks made an incredible comeback from 15 down, and his dagger from distance put a bow on an incredible 20-2 run. He later had a layup that proved to be the game-winner, but the 3-point bucket is my favorite.
Taylor: Dirk has had so many clutch buckets in his career, but the one that sticks out to me has to be the driving layup in Game 2 of the 2011 NBA Finals. That's because when he had Chris Bosh on him at the free throw line it showed us how much his game had evolved even though he'd been great for such a long time. Remember when Bruce Bowen of the Spurs used to body Dirk and force him to shoot jumpers. Well, Bosh bodied him and Nowitzki drove by him, used a stutter step to create some space and laid it in for the go-ahead bucket that tied the series at 1-1 as Mavs rallied from double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter.
MacMahon: It comes down to a couple of lefty finishes for me. Dirk’s Game 2 drive in Miami bumped his Game 7 OT-forcing and-1 against the Spurs in the 2006 West semifinals to second place. Just think about that moment in Miami. It capped a 15-point fourth-quarter comeback against the hated Heat, a team few believed the Mavs really had a chance to beat, making it clear that those Finals were going to be one heck of a series. It also exorcised demons from the ’06 Finals collapse on that court and forced a lot of folks to completely reconsider their opinions on the supposedly soft Euro who couldn’t carry a team to a title. And that bucket was a thing of beauty – blowing by Bosh after a little hesitation coming out of a spin move at the elbow and finishing with a graceful finger roll, hushing an stunned crowd wearing all white.
2. What can the Mavs do to convince you that they should be considered a threat in the Western Conference?
Gutierrez: They can continue to show the trend of them being able to rebound the ball with efficiency. They can also have a strong record against the team’s that are currently in the West playoffs to finish out the season. Dallas is currently 5-10 against the other seven teams that are currently in the top eight in the West. They are 0-2 in those games since Jan. 18, when Devin Harris returned to the lineup. Dallas has 10 games left against those top seven teams (including two matchups apiece against the Thunder, Spurs, Clippers and Warriors). A winning record in those 10 games would do go a long way in convincing many that they can be a legitimate threat. If they have a record well below .500 in those 10 games, their playoff footing will become incredibly shaky.
Taylor: Nothing. OK, if they played some real defense for four quarters for a couple of weeks in a row then I'd believe. But they can't. Or they won't. Again, there is no one who will want to deal with Nowitzki, Rick Carlisle or their fantastic offense, but when the postseason becomes a bump and grind, the Mavs will have some big problems.
MacMahon: Keep winning in March. They’ve feasted on a soft schedule in February, which is swell. The going gets much tougher next month. They’ve got road games in the first two and a half weeks against the San Antonio Spurs, Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder and host the Portland Trail Blazers and Indiana Pacers during that span. Win three or more of those games – and at least be competitive against potential first-round foes San Antonio and OKC – and the Mavs will earn respect as a team nobody wants to see in the playoffs.
3. If the opportunity presents itself, should the Mavs try to sign Carmelo Anthony to a max deal?
Gutierrez: Monta Ellis is an example of their system getting the most out of a player. That would certainly be the line of thinking in going after Anthony, easily one of the best scorers the league has to offer. You’re still getting the prime of his game, as Anthony would be 34 at the end of that deal. It’s such a tough call, in my opinion. Narratives have painted him out to be a joke in New York, but look at what he’s really had alongside him with the Knicks. It’s a big bag of nothing. It would easily be a different story alongside Nowitzki. That said, I’m probably passing on going after Anthony. He’s the superstar that likely has the lowest impact alongside Nowitzki. Handcuffing yourself financially for Dwight Howard, Chris Paul or LeBron James makes sense, but I have hesitation when it comes to Anthony. I would pass on him.
Taylor: I'm not a big Carmelo fan because he pounds the ball and I don't think he makes dudes around him better. That said, the game is about stars and Carlisle has such a positive effect on players that he might be able to convince Carmelo to change his game and get everyone else involved. One of the beauties of the Mavs over the years is that the move the ball and play beautiful offense.
MacMahon: I’ve been riding the fence on this one for a couple of reasons: The flaws in Melo’s me-first game and the price tag. All max deals aren’t equal. Because of his current salary, teams other than the Knicks can offer Anthony a four-year, $95.9 million deal, which is more than the Mavs could offer the big fish who didn’t take their bait. The Knicks can offer $129.1 million over five years, which is why I think this will end up being a moot discussion. But, for the sake of argument, let’s assume Melo will want to escape New York after this disastrous season for the Knicks. He wouldn’t be a perfect fit for the Mavs by any means, and it’d take either some fairly significant roster tinkering or Nowitzki accepting a ridiculously below-market-value contract to make room under the Mavs’ cap for a Melo max deal, but I’d swallow hard and do it. It might be the Mavs’ last chance to make Dirk a co-star while he’s still an All-Star, and Carlisle has shown with Ellis that he can maximize a flawed player’s strengths while masking his weaknesses as much as possible. And, really, do the Mavs have a better plan to compete for a title during Dirk’s golden years?