1. How can Rick Carlisle help Dirk Nowitzki get in an extended groove?
Gutierrez: Make sure that Holger Geschwindner can stay in town until the playoffs are over. It appears his return back to Dallas is just what the doctor order as Nowitzki bounced back from his worst shooting performance of the season against Brooklyn with a stellar one against Oklahoma City. Fatigue is going to be an issue, especially with unnecessary overtime games, but it never hurts to have his mentor here. Holger established confidence in Nowitzki's game earlier in his career. He now brings comfort to the veteran's game. Whether it's confidence or comfort, both are great for Dallas' face of the franchise. Rest would be ideal, but it appears keeping Holger in town is the best move Carlisle can make.
Taylor: There's nothing Carlisle can do to get Nowitzki in a groove. Nowitzki knows what he needs -- and as we saw against Oklahoma City, it's usually a visit by Holger -- and understands how to get out of a mini-slump. When Nowitzki is aggressive, he's fine. The dude is 14th in the NBA in scoring (21.2) and he played with an emotion against Oklahoma City that he can't ratchet up every night. He was fist-pumping and into the game in the second quarter because he knew it was a huge game for the Mavs. He's 35. There will be lulls in his play from time to time, but for the most part -- somehow -- Dirk remains Dirk.
MacMahon: Holger’s arrival sure helps. However, a shot doctor can’t cure the biggest concern with Nowitzki: 70 games worth of wear and tear on those 35-year-old legs. Carlisle must continue to do everything in his power to help keep Nowitzki as fresh as possible. That means short shootarounds, light practices, even giving the big German days off. Resting him for a game or two down the stretch simply isn’t a luxury the Mavs have, and as Carlisle noted Tuesday morning, it’s not something Nowitzki would allow right now, anyway. Carlisle can help with occasional playcalling if for whatever reason the rock isn’t getting to Nowitzki, especially at his sweet spots a little bit above the block, but the Mavs are at their best when they’re playing random flow basketball. The best thing Carlisle can do is keep his team on edge. When the Mavs play gritty defense, things tend to be a lot easier for Nowitzki offensively.
2. Other than Nowitzki and Monta Ellis, which player will be most critical to the Mavs' playoff push?
Gutierrez: You can make a case for two or three players, but I am going to go with Jose Calderon. In a quirky but true stat, the Mavericks are 1-3 in games where Calderon either was unable to play or unable to complete a game due to injury. He's a liability on the defensive end of the floor, but most of the players on this squad are. Calderon's ability to space the floor and be a calming influence as a point guard has proven to be invaluable for this team. If this team is going to rely on their scoring, they need Calderon as that bailout option scorer.
Taylor: Devin Harris can be the X factor because he can effectively drive to the bucket and, more important, stay in front of some of the quicker point guards the Mavs will face the rest of the season. He can play 20-25 minutes a night, which should keep Calderon fresher and even Monta Ellis a break from time to time. He also gives Carlisle an option on the nights when Calderon isn't playing well.
MacMahon: They need the Samuel Dalembert who has been showing up the last week. The numbers are nice – 7.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, 2.8 blocks in 23.3 minutes per game on this homestand – but that’s not how the Mavs measure Dalembert’s outing. It’s all about effort, energy and intensity. When Dalembert plays with fire, he provides an interior presence nobody else on the roster is physically capable of bringing to the party. The Mavs need Dalembert to be a 20-plus-minute-per-game monster to be decent defensively. He’ll be especially important if the regular-season finale against Marc Gasol and the Memphis Grizzlies is a win-or-go-home affair.
3. Should Samuel Dalembert be back in Dallas next season?
Gutierrez: For a rotational center, $3.87 million isn't a terrible cap hit. I don't really have a problem bringing Dalembert back next season, but the important caveat is that he returns as a backup center. That role likely takes DeJuan Blair out of the mix, but Dalembert is a better fit as a backup. He's far too inconsistent, so Dallas can't really depend on him being the starting center if they have aspirations of getting into the playoffs and making a deep run. It will take some creative work by the Mavericks to improve the center position because the free agent market isn't overly stout. That said, as silly as it sounds based on his peaks and valleys play over the course of the season, it's not a bad idea bringing Dalembert back as long as they have a better option ahead of him on the depth chart.
Taylor: I'd like to have Dalembert back, and I'd really like to have him back as the Mavs' backup center. That would be tremendous. Then you'd have some real options on those nights he didn't come to play -- and he might be the kind of guy who responds to that. He's been playing well lately, but the problem with Dalembert is you can't trust him. No matter how good he plays you're always wondering when he's going to give you one of those pathetic games that leaves you scratching your head.
MacMahon: He’s guaranteed $1.8 million of next season’s salary, so the Mavs would gain less than $2 million of cap space by letting Dalembert go. They better have a really good reason for needing that money if Dalembert doesn’t return to Dallas. Dalembert has earned some criticism this season, but he’s more than earned every dollar of his salary, too. If not for his baggage, he’d be making a lot more. It’d be nice to make him a backup, but the Mavs have done much worse (and pricier) than having Dalembert as a stopgap starter again.