Dallas Mavericks: 3 Points

3 Points: More concern over Monta or Dirk?

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23
12:00
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Monta Ellis and Dirk NowitzkiRocky Widner/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe Mavericks need more from Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki in Game 2.
ESPNDallas.com columnist Jean-Jacques Taylor and MavsOutsider.com editor-in-chief Bryan Gutierrez will join me each week to run a three-man weave on a few questions on the minds of Mavs fans.

Is the 11-point, 4-of-14 performance in Game 1 by Dirk Nowitzki or Monta Ellis more concerning?

Gutierrez: It has to be Ellis. Nowitzki has seen everything in terms of defensive schemes, especially from the Spurs. He got looks from his favorite spots. Sunday's opening tilt just provided a game where the ball didn't go in the basket. The Spurs attempted to make Ellis settle for the dreaded long two-point shots rather than getting to the rim. The Mavericks will have to continue to find ways to get him to the rim. A byproduct of him getting to the rim is manufacturing more trips to the free throw line. Dallas only had 13 more free throw attempts. Easy points come at a premium and Ellis can help in that department. If opportunities aren't created for that to happen, the concern will continue to grow.

Taylor: Ellis' poor game is definitely more disturbing because he has no real playoff track record. We know what Dirk can do and we've seen it 10,000 times. He's played in 129 playoff games and won an NBA Finals MVP; Ellis has played in 16 playoff games and only started 11. Ellis had a really nice regular season, but we all know playoff basketball is different. We can assume he'll bounce back and play well, but there's no guarantee.

MacMahon: Ellis has never had it all during the playoffs. It’s not much of a track record -- and most of it is from his second NBA season, when he was the fourth or fifth option on the “We Believe” Warriors -- but it’s butt ugly. His averages from 16 career playoff games: 9.8 points, 39.7 field goal percentage, 2.1 assists, 2.0 turnovers. Nowitzki, on the other hand, has a Finals MVP and is one of four players in NBA history with career playoff averages of at least 25 points and 10 rebounds. We know Dirk delivers during the playoffs much more often than not. Ellis has to prove he can perform in the postseason.

Should Rick Carlisle change the starting lineup for Game 2?

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Who should start for the Mavs in Game 2?

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Gutierrez: MacMahon noted on Twitter that Dallas' starting five is minus-40 in 33 minutes of action against San Antonio this season. The only logical move I see making is inserting Devin Harris as the starting point guard for Jose Calderon. I don't think it is the wisest decision, though. There are no assurances that Harris would bring a better start to the games. What we do know is that he's a vital cog in the dynamic bench Dallas has. Even if he still is on the floor with some of them, moving him to the starting lineup disrupts the cohesion that has been established with the bench. The more reasonable option is shifting the workload of minutes in favor of Harris.

Taylor: No. No. No. A thousand times no. This team won 49 games and pretty much achieved as much as it could with this roster of players who struggle to defend and rebound. Changing the lineup now would be a panic move. The Mavs have spent the season creating roles for players, so that guys are comfortable with what they're supposed to and when they should expect to get into the game. Changing the lineup for a streaky guy like Harris makes no sense. If he's hot, he'll play more. If not, he'll get his usual minutes.

MacMahon: I remember a couple of “panic moves” that worked out pretty well for the Mavs -- starting Harris for Game 2 against the Spurs in the 2006 West semis and starting J.J. Barea in Game 4 of the 2011 Finals. I just don’t think the Mavs benefit from this potential lineup switch, because it’d break up the best thing they have going, which is the chemistry of the bench. Plus, Harris did the vast majority of his damage when matched up with backup point guard Patty Mills in Game 1. The Mavs want that matchup again.

Did the Mavs pick the right poison by deciding that defending the Spurs’ 3-point threats was a bigger priority than stopping Tim Duncan and Tony Parker?

Gutierrez: Nowitzki is one of the best basketball players to ever play the game. In his spare time, he also doubles as a mathematician. He stated that they got killed on 3-point shots in the regular season against the Spurs, so the better prospect was to give up twos instead of threes by switching on most of the screens. It's likely that the Mavericks will continue to sacrifice twos for threes, maybe just with tweaks along the way. There's danger looming with Kawhi Leonard being another big benefactor of the switching. There were multiple times where he had a smaller guard switched onto him. An adjustment the Spurs can make is taking advantage of those mismatches. While it just presents another problem, Dallas will trade twos for threes every day.

Taylor: Absolutely. They held the Spurs to 90 points and stopped the crowd from getting really engaged by making the Spurs' litany of catch-and-shoot players essentially non-factors. You can't stop everything. Let Duncan get his and contain everyone else is a sound strategy. The problem wasn't on the defensive end, it was Nowitzki and Ellis making only 8 of 28 shots.

MacMahon: The Spurs averaged 112.5 points in their four regular-season meetings against the Mavs. They scored 90 Sunday. I’d say Dallas’ defensive strategy was pretty darn smart. San Antonio torched the Mavs from the perimeter during the regular season, going 42-of-97 from 3-point range. The Spurs were 3-of-17 from long distance in Game 1. Great adjustment by Carlisle. The concern now: Will the Spurs exploit the mismatch of Leonard posting up Ellis, assuming Shawn Marion opens up on Parker again?
Dirk NowitzkiMatthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsWould Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs have a fighting chance against Kevin Durant and the Thunder?
ESPNDallas.com columnist Jean-Jacques Taylor and MavsOutsider.com editor-in-chief Bryan Gutierrez will join me each week to run a three-man weave on a few questions on the minds of Mavs fans.

1. How much of a difference does it make whether the Mavs face the Thunder or Spurs?

Gutierrez: It makes a dramatic difference. Dallas has the advantage in coaching and bench support against Oklahoma City. At best, they're even in those categories against San Antonio. The Spurs struggle against younger and athletic teams. No one will confuse the Mavericks as either of those. Dallas has lost nine straight to their neighbors to the south. Meanwhile, the recent run of success against the Thunder should give the Mavericks more confidence if they were to matchup in the first round. I think a series against San Antonio would be death by paper cuts, while a series against Oklahoma City would potentially be death by technical knockout.

Taylor: The Mavs really have no chance to beat San Antonio in a seven-game series. The Spurs are too disciplined and too good offensively and defensively for the Mavs to beat them. The have virtually no chance to beat Oklahoma City, but it's more of a chance than they have to beat San Antonio. First, they beat Oklahoma City the last two times they've played them even though OKC didn't have its full squad either time. So much of professional sports is about confidence. The Mavs believe they can beat Oklahoma City. In their heart of hearts, I don't know that they believe they can beat the Spurs. They will compete, but I don’t know if they believe when it comes to San Antonio.

MacMahon: The Mavs wouldn’t be favored in either series, but they’d at least have a shooter’s chance against the Thunder. They’d be in serious jeopardy of getting swept by the Spurs. You can debate how much stock should be put in Dallas’ two March wins over Oklahoma City, but they at least gave the Mavs reason to believe they can beat the Thunder. That doesn’t exist against a San Antonio team that hasn’t lost to the Mavs since Jason Kidd was playing point guard in Dallas. The Mavs’ ball movement gives the Thunder big problems. If the Mavs are hot from 3-point range, they’ve got a shot to beat the Thunder.

(Read full post)

ESPNDallas.com columnist Jean-Jacques Taylor and MavsOutsider.com editor-in-chief Bryan Gutierrez will join me each week to run a three-man weave on a few questions on the minds of Mavs fans.

1. What's your prediction if the Mavs meet the Oklahoma City Thunder in the playoffs?

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What would be the result of a Mavs-Thunder series?

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Gutierrez: This is the matchup Dallas would like to see. In addition, if this holds, this is the best opening-round matchup in the playoffs. You don’t think the league would love marketing another duel between Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Durant? It should be noted that Dallas won the season series over Oklahoma City this season, 2-1. Yes, Russell Westbrook missed one of the games and the Thunder went without key rotational players in a majority of the games, but this is the matchup Dallas can hang in. Shawn Marion makes Durant work for every single point he scores, which is essential if you want to try to steal a series. Also, the Mavericks have the bench and coaching advantage against the Thunder. I think the combination of Durant and Westbrook is too much for Dallas, but I think it goes to six, possibly seven games.

Taylor: The Mavs would lose in five after Oklahoma City took a 3-0 lead. Yes, the Mavs have beaten OKC the last two times they met, but they haven't beaten them when the Thunder was at full strength and they haven't beaten them with something like a playoff series on the line. The Mavs are such a bad defensive team that OKC would eventually have their way with them against them in a seven-game series.

MacMahon: How much value do you put on the Mavs’ two wins in March? It’d been a long time since Dallas defeated OKC before then, but the Mavs did expose one of the Thunder’s biggest flaws in those games. OKC tends to get sloppy with its defensive rotations and close-outs on 3-point shooters. The Mavs move the ball and shoot the 3 with the best of them and lit it up in those two games, going 28-of-52 from 3-point range. That could make this series interesting and entertaining because you know KD and Co. are going to put up a lot of points. Thunder in six.

2. What's your prediction if the Mavs meet the San Antonio Spurs in the playoffs?

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What would be the result of a Mavs-Spurs series?

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Gutierrez: The Spurs are just a machine. They are simply just too good. There might be some glimmer of hope with them taking the foot off the gas since they’ve clinched the top seed and home-court advantage, but I wouldn’t count on that for a huge boost towards Dallas. There’s too much pick-and-roll action and ball movement that will carve up the Mavericks’ defense. Dallas might be able to score, but they necessarily can’t rely on monster performances from Nowitzki. Gregg Popovich is the best coach in the league and he has a defender in Boris Diaw who has done surprisingly well guarding Nowitzki over recent seasons. This is just flat out trouble for the Mavericks. This is a Gentleman’s sweep, meaning Dallas loses in five games.

Taylor: San Antonio would sweep the Mavs. San Antonio plays good defense and they don't make the kind of mistakes the Mavs do at winning time, which leads to losses. And the way the Mavs play defense they'd have no chance to stop San Antonio.

MacMahon: Maybe the Mavs catch a break and Tony Parker’s back keeps acting up, but that’d probably just mean that former Trail Blazers mascot/Brian Cardinal tackling dummy Patty Mills would light it up. Like we needed any further proof that Pop is a coaching genius, he’s developed Patty Mills into a highly productive member of a potential championship team’s rotation. The Spurs are just too tough and too deep for the Mavs to have any real upset hopes. It’d be an accomplishment if they make a second trip to see that muddy-beep thing they call the Riverwalk in this series. Spurs in five.

3. What's your prediction if the Mavs meet the Los Angeles Clippers in the playoffs?

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What would be the result of a Mavs-Clippers series?

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Gutierrez: Based on the shenanigans in the previous matchups and the players in the mix, I think this could become a very emotional series. Assuming there’s a skirmish or two, this series won’t be for the faint of heart. In addition, there will likely be an understanding that defense will be optional. I don’t trust Dallas’ chances of shutting Chris Paul down enough to secure a series. That said, I don’t trust Los Angeles, outside of Paul, to handle their business in convincing fashion. I don’t see the Mavericks winning the series, but I think they push the Clippers to possibly six games.

Taylor: The Mavs could take the Clippers to six or seven games before eventually losing. The problem with the Clippers is finding someone to stay in front of Chris Paul. He's so quick and fast that he creates all kinds of problems for the Mavs when he gets into the lane. The Mavs also a problem with DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin inside. But the Mavs have led the Clippers in the fourth quarter of each of the four games they played this season, but only won one of them. The Clippers would not want this matchup.

MacMahon: We know the Mavs can play with the Clippers. They’ve built double-digit leads in all four meetings this season. The question is whether they can close against the Clippers. They haven’t done that yet. Yes, they won in L.A. last week, but they had to hang on for dear life after a 12-point lead got slashed to two in an 85-second span late in the fourth quarter. This series would be an absolute treat to watch with the Lob City high-risers putting together a highlight reel and the Mavs’ conducting an offensive symphony. I just don’t think it’d turn out much better for Dallas than the last time they faced CP3 in a playoff series. Clippers in six.

3 Points: Best matchup for Mavs?

April, 2, 2014
Apr 2
12:00
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Vince Carter, Devin Harris, and Shawn MarionGetty ImagesHow should Vince Carter, Devin Harris and Shawn Marion rank in order of priority this summer?
ESPNDallas.com columnist Jean-Jacques Taylor and MavsOutsider.com editor-in-chief Bryan Gutierrez will join me each week to run a three-man weave on a few questions on the minds of Mavs fans.

1. Of the top four teams in the West, which one would the Mavs have the best chance to upset in a playoff series?

Gutierrez: In terms of an actual upset, I'm going with Houston. That's a true shootout waiting to happen. There might be some lingering doubt with the Spurs, Thunder and Clippers, but I don't see any trickling in against the Rockets. There's no immediate history of backlash or devastation against Houston. That's a group that has gotten to the playoffs but they still don't have an extended run on their resume. Dwight Howard is going to be a force, but I think the matchup motivates Samuel Dalembert to where he can have an impact. The coaching advantage also is in favor of the Mavericks. Houston has the athletes, but if things begin to get dicey in a series, I actually trust the veterans on Dallas more.

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Which team would the Mavs have the best chance to upset in a playoff series?

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Taylor: The Mavs would have the best chance to upset the Clippers. After all, they've led each of their three games against the Clippers in the fourth quarter. They just haven't closed the games out. There would be no fear about their ability to compete against the Clippers, so the mental part of the game would be OK. The Clippers wouldn't be easy, but I could see the Mavs pushing Los Angeles.

MacMahon: I’ve seen Chris Paul destroy the Mavs in a playoff series. Different team for him, different coach and roster for the Mavs, but I think the result would be similar. The Mavs’ two March wins over the Thunder exposed OKC’s issues defending the 3 -- and the Mavs sure can shoot -- and eased the utter hopelessness if those teams meet again in the playoffs. But I can’t see Kevin Durant, the world’s best player at this point, letting the Mavs pull off the upset. I’ll also go with Houston, which has some significant health concerns. I could also see Dwight Howard getting distracted by Mark Cuban’s mind games. The Mavs would have to score a ton of points to keep up with the Rockets, but they’d at least have a shooter’s chance in that series.

(Read full post)

ESPNDallas.com columnist Jean-Jacques Taylor and MavsOutsider.com editor-in-chief Bryan Gutierrez will join me each week to run a three-man weave on a few questions on the minds of Mavs fans.

1. How can Rick Carlisle help Dirk Nowitzki get in an extended groove?

[+] Enlarge Dirk Nowitzki
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty ImagesKeeping Holger Geschwindner in town to help Dirk wouldn't hurt.
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?

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Which role player is most critical to the Mavs' playoff push?

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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?

[+] EnlargeSamuel Dalembert
Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY SportsSamuel Dalembert has had his share of highs and lows with the Mavs.
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.

3 Points: What's a successful season?

March, 19, 2014
Mar 19
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Dirk NowitzkiLayne Murdoch/NBAE/Getty ImagesDid Sunday's win in OKC show that the Mavs could challenge the Thunder in a playoff series?
ESPNDallas.com columnist Jean-Jacques Taylor and MavsOutsider.com editor-in-chief Bryan Gutierrez will join me each week to run a three-man weave on a few questions on the minds of Mavs fans.

1. What should be a successful season for these Mavs?

Gutierrez: If we’re still buying in on Mark Cuban’s two-year plan, I would say a successful season in terms of tangible win-loss results would be getting into the playoffs and, depending on the seeding, winning a game or two. I think the probability of extending a series greatly improves if they can somehow manage to wind up as the sixth seed. I think this season has already been a success because they’ve found a true running mate for Dirk Nowitzki in Monta Ellis. They were expecting a nice player, but I think they’ve gotten more than they expected in Ellis. His aggression on offense and commendable all-around play have made him a great piece for the new core. With a new core and cap space, they can continue to propel themselves back to contention near the top of the West. That’s a success in my book.

Taylor: Given the makeup of this roster and where they will likely finish in the Western Conference, I'd say getting to the second round would be a sensational season. A good season, as strange as it sounds, would be pushing their first-round opponent 6 or 7 games, especially if it's San Antonio or Oklahoma City. I don't expect them to get to the second round and for a franchise with their history, it seems bad to say just getting to playoffs is a successful season.

MacMahon: The Mavs have to at least put up a fight in the first round to feel good about this season. No matter how tough the West might be, the Mavs are too proud of a franchise to consider just getting into the playoffs to be an accomplishment worth celebrating. Last season was viewed as an epic failure because the Mavs’ 12-year playoff streak was snapped, and that was with Dirk missing the first two months and dragging his leg around for several more weeks. Cuban will say he’s never satisfied with anything short of a title, but we all know the standards have been lowered over the last few years. Go six games in the first round, and that can be considered significant progress.

(Read full post)

3 Points: More burn for Brandan Wright?

March, 12, 2014
Mar 12
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Brandan WrightRocky Widner/NBAE via Getty ImagesBrandan Wright is making the most of his minutes with the Mavericks.
ESPNDallas.com columnist Jean-Jacques Taylor and MavsOutsider.com editor-in-chief Bryan Gutierrez will join me each week to run a three-man weave on a few questions on the minds of Mavs fans.

1. Brandan Wright ranks among the top 10 players in PER this season. Is that evidence that he deserves more minutes or that Rick Carlisle is doing a masterful job picking spots to play Wright?

Gutierrez: It's evidence he's effective in situations where he's poised to succeed. If you look at the matchups against Portland and Indiana, they involved bigger players who were comfortable working in the post. He's generally ineffective against those players because they impose their will in the paint and that provides easy buckets for the opposition. The positioning is also an issue when it comes to rebounding. Look at Carlisle's track record. Rodrigue Beaubois, DeShawn Stevenson, J.J. Barea, Carlisle picked his spots with those players and put them in situations to succeed. Wright deserves minutes when they're advantageous for the team.

Taylor: Wright, for the time being, is really nice role player. But his role is limited to certain situations because he's a true tweener. He can't bang against the big boys and that means Carlisle feels comfortable playing him only with certain other players, so the spacing remains good on offense. Wright could force Carlisle to play him more if he was a better and more consistent rebounder, but we haven't seen that yet.

MacMahon: I've got a condition I call the Roddy B. Reflex that makes me very hesitant to second-guess Carlisle's rotations. I lobbied hard for Beaubois to get a bigger role as a rookie, and we all know how he wilted when his minutes increased. Having said all that, I'd like to see Wright in the 25-minute-per-game range. He earned his two-year, $10 million deal by flourishing in an increased role down the stretch last season, and his net rating (plus-6.1 points per 100 possessions) is by far the best of the Mavs' centers. Next time Carlisle asks my advice, I'll tell him to stop using DeJuan Blair as the first big off the bench and give those minutes to Wright.

[+] EnlargeDevin Harris
AP Photo/John F. RhodesSince his return, Devin Harris has impressed when his Achilles isn't bothering him.
2. Should Devin Harris be in the closing lineup on a consistent basis?

Gutierrez: A sore right Achilles halted Harris' night in Golden State and easily leaves him questionable for the game against Utah. If he's able to avoid missing a lot of time, he's primed to be a factor in the closing lineup. Harris is a quasi-DeShawn Stevenson or maybe even a mixture of Stevenson and Jason Terry. Back in 2011, Stevenson set the tone in terms of defense to start games, and Terry didn't care about starting games during his time in Dallas -- he cared about being out there during crunch time. If Harris can bring some dribble penetration and bring some defensive disposition, it's the best of both worlds. Jose Calderon appears to be the one who will draw the short straw in terms of closing minutes, but he's a veteran and is willing to do what is best for the team. Health permitting, it appears Monta Ellis and Harris could be the closing backcourt during the stretch run.

Taylor: Well, we saw the problem with Harris in Tuesday night's blowout loss to Golden State. We can't trust his health yet. This is the second time he's had a sore Achilles. The best thing to do, right now, regarding Harris is just accept what he can give you on a game-by-game basis. No expectations. When he can play and he's playing well, then use him in fourth quarter. But until we can trust his health it's hard to define his role.

MacMahon: This sore Achilles is pretty poorly timed, but the Mavs don't believe it's serious. If Harris is healthy enough to play, he should be part of the Mavs' closing lineup unless Calderon is just lighting it up that night. Harris earned those opportunities with his clutch heroics over the weekend. He's the Mavs' best defensive guard and his ability to create off the dribble makes a major difference in crunch time. Calderon has been just a floor-spacer during closing time this season -- and not particularly effective in that role. This is an easy decision unless Harris' health complicates the issue.

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Which West team should the Mavericks most want to avoid in the playoffs?

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3. Which West team should the Mavs most want to avoid in the playoffs?

Gutierrez: It's clear that both San Antonio and Oklahoma City are the teams Dallas needs to avoid. If you're forcing me to pick one, I'm going to go with Dallas needing to avoid San Antonio. They have so much depth at their disposal and that depth can negate Dallas' strength in numbers approach. As we saw in the matchup just over a week ago, the ball movement and pick-and-roll action they create puts the Mavericks in an incredible bind. San Antonio is a machine and Dallas doesn't have the components to slow them down. To avoid both, Dallas needs to emerge as the sixth seed in the West.

Taylor: It's a tie. The Mavs have no chance to beat San Antonio because the Spurs are too smart, and they have no chance to beat Oklahoma City because the Thunder are too athletic. If the Mavs played a lick of defense they'd have a sliver of a chance against these two teams. Since they don't, they would be lucky to force either series to six games.

MacMahon: The Spurs and Thunder are both horrific matchups for the Mavs, but I'd call Oklahoma City the greater of the two evils. There is high potential for humiliation if you face a team with two premier young superstars such as Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in a playoff series. Side note: Bricktown is better than that muddy-beep thing they call the Riverwalk.

3 Points: Favorite Dirk clutch bucket?

February, 26, 2014
Feb 26
12:00
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ESPNDallas.com columnist Jean-Jacques Taylor and MavsOutsider.com editor-in-chief Bryan Gutierrez will join me each week to run a three-man weave on a few questions on the minds of Mavs fans.

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?

[+] EnlargeDirk Nowitzki
Anthony Gruppuso/USA TODAY Sports Dirk Nowitzki added to his legacy with a game-winning 3-pointer against the Knicks.
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?

SportsNation

Do the Mavs have a legitimate chance to make noise in the playoffs this season?

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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?

[+] EnlargeCarmelo Anthony
AP Photo/Lance MurpheyIs chasing Carmelo Anthony to pair with Dirk Nowitzki worth the risk?
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?

3 Points: Odds Mavs win a playoff series?

February, 19, 2014
Feb 19
12:00
PM CT
ESPNDallas.com columnist Jean-Jacques Taylor and MavsOutsider.com editor-in-chief Bryan Gutierrez will join me each week to run a three-man weave on a few questions on the minds of Mavs fans.

Samuel DalembertGlenn James/NBAE/Getty ImagesIs Samuel Dalembert the Mavericks' biggest X factor for the rest of the season?
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?

SportsNation

Who's the Mavs' biggest X factor the rest of the season?

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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.

3 Points: Best teammate Dirk has ever had?

February, 12, 2014
Feb 12
11:00
AM CT
ESPNDallas.com columnist Jean-Jacques Taylor and MavsOutsider.com editor-in-chief Bryan Gutierrez will join me each week to run a three-man weave on a few questions on the minds of Mavs fans.

1. Who is the best teammate Dirk Nowitzki has ever had?

[+] EnlargeDallas Mavericks
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonCount Steve Nash and Michael Finley among Dirk's best teammates.
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?

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Who is the best teammate Dirk Nowitzki has ever had?

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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?

[+] EnlargeSamuel Dalembert, Alexis Ajinca
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertSamuel Dalembert has played well of late, but can the Mavs count on him night in and night out?
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.
Larry SandersFernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images Could the Mavericks acquire Milwaukee big man Larry Sanders before the trade deadline?
ESPNDallas.com columnist Jean-Jacques Taylor and MavsOutsider.com editor-in-chief Bryan Gutierrez will join me each week to run a three-man weave on a few questions on the minds of Mavs fans.

1. What's the best hypothetical deal you can come up with for the Mavs before the trade deadline?


Gutierrez: I would call Boston and see if they're interested in Shane Larkin and Bernard James for Avery Bradley. Dallas has two second-round picks -- one of them due from Boston -- in this upcoming draft, so those could be further chips to use. The logic I see in this is Boston would be acquiring a young asset they presumably liked in Larkin and Bradley turned down an extension with Boston, so the Celtics may look to just get an asset for him now. They're in tank mode, so getting worse and acquiring cheaper talent would be optimal for them. Bradley doesn't fix a lot for Dallas, but one player can't fix what ails Dallas. Presented with an option, I'll go for a defensive-minded guard.

Taylor: I'm not interested in any trade the Mavs could make because this game has evolved into a league where the team with the most superstars win -- unless you're Indiana or Chicago and you supplement your one true superstar with suffocating defense and two or three guys who are almost stars. Those types of players aren't available for what the Mavs have to offer. Evan Turner or Omer Asik aren't going to turn the Mavs into legitimate contenders. Dirk Nowitzki is still a star, and Monta Ellis is really good, but he's not a star. The Mavs' defense is worse than abject. They're a fun team to watch, but they have not chance to win a title and they're merely delaying the inevitable, while Dirk is still on the team.

MacMahon: It will probably be a disappointing trade deadline for Mavs fans. As JJT mentioned, this team simply doesn’t have enough assets to have any confidence in Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson pulling off a blockbuster deal. A Dahntay Jones-for-Anthony Morrow type deal is much more likely, but I’ll stick with my pie-in-the-sky scenario of the Milwaukee Bucks being motivated enough to dump talented but troublesome big man Larry Sanders before his four-year, $44 million extension kicks in. The purely speculative three-way proposal I came up with would bring Sanders and throw-in power forward Ekpe Udoh to Dallas, send Omer Asik and DeJuan Blair to Milwaukee and Shawn Marion to Houston. Too bad Sanders would likely have to get in another bar fight in the next couple of weeks for this to have a chance of happening.

(Read full post)

3 Points: Should Devin Harris start?

January, 29, 2014
Jan 29
12:00
PM CT
Devin HarrisNathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty ImagesMavs guard Devin Harris is playing well since returning to the court.
ESPNDallas.com columnist Jean-Jacques Taylor and MavsOutsider.com editor-in-chief Bryan Gutierrez will join me each week to run a three-man weave on a few questions on the minds of Mavs fans.

1. Should Rick Carlisle consider starting Devin Harris? If so, who comes off the bench?


Gutierrez: Carlisle says they’re scientific with their research in regards to anything. Considering a switch is an obvious move, but I don’t think it actually happens. They’ve already spent more than half of the season with the existing backcourt in place. Dallas doesn’t have enough margin for error to go through growing pains to only have a possibility of improving. Just have Harris continue to come off the bench and have him be the shorter version of Shawn Marion. By that, I mean let Harris patch up whatever problem Dallas is struggling with within a given game. The current setup is working, so let it be.

Taylor: No. No. No. We're always so quick to overreact every time someone has a good stretch whether it's Jae Crowder or Shane Larkin or DeJuan Blair. Let's see if Harris can play the way he's been playing for 3-4 weeks before we even think about putting him in the lineup. Jose Calderon has been running the offense fine and his 3-point shooting has been tremendous. If you want to shave his minutes and give a few more to Harris, then fine. But let's not disrupt Calderon and the rotation by moving Harris into the starting lineup.

MacMahon: It’s an idea worth considering at some point because the Calderon/Monta Ellis combination is so bad defensively. The Mavs’ defensive rating with that duo on the floor (107.3) would rank second to last in the league. In an ideal world, Ellis would come off the bench in a Jet-like role, but that’s a move that requires significant ego massaging and can’t be made midseason. It’ll be interesting to see how often Harris plays instead of Calderon or Ellis at crunch time, but Carlisle made it clear that he’s sticking with the starting backcourt. “I like that there’s continuity, there’s familiarity,” Carlisle said. “We’ve worked a lot to this point to get a lot of things going the right way, and I just can’t see throwing a big upheaval into it right now. I just don’t think that’s the way to go.”

[+] EnlargeDirk Nowitzki
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsDirk Nowitzki, who has gone back to wearing a knee sleeve, looks to get past the Pistons' Greg Monroe.

2. Is Dirk Nowitzki wearing a sleeve on his left knee again reason to sweat or no big deal?


Gutierrez: Anything that revolves around Nowitzki’s knees has to signal a blip on the caution radar. He’s getting up there in years and the stiffness he’s feeling in his knees likely isn't going to magically disappear. He’s obviously a fierce competitor, so he’ll tough out any kind of issues he’s going through. Even with all of that, the sleeve went away earlier in the season and he’s been fine up until now. As long as nothing major comes in terms of an injury, the sleeve just might make cameo appearances periodically. If scheduled absences turn into unscheduled ones, concern officially needs to be raised. Until then, we’ll give everyone involved the benefit of the doubt.

Taylor: Everything happens for a reason. If Dirk didn't need the sleeve, then he wouldn't be wearing it. So, yes, it's a big deal. He's wearing the sleeve because something doesn't feel right. All we can do is hope it doesn't develop into something more serious. The Mavs are already trying to limit his minutes and they gave him a day off last week to help his body. He's 35. Anytime he has even slight discomfort, it's a big deal.

MacMahon: It’s definitely notable, but it’s not a big deal. Not with Nowitzki coming off a 28-point, nine-rebound performance in which he was 10-of-16 from the floor. He’s dealing with some stiffness in the knee, which he readily admits tends to happen with old dudes, but it’s not a structural issue. This is just part of the constant maintenance required for a 35-year-old to play heavy minutes, much less at an All-Star level.

3. Let's continue our Twitter conversation here. What would you be willing to offer Lance Stephenson to try to steal him from Indiana this summer?


Gutierrez: Dallas has put themselves in a position since 2011 to where they could remain flexible as they continue their pursuit of the next superstar. Lance Stephenson is likely not going to emerge as a superstar, but he will be an incredible asset to any team he’s on. Dallas will have money to pay someone to be “the man” as Nowitzki continues to slowly meet Father Time. I like Stephenson, but not enough to pay him as “the man” for the next generation. Numbers wise, I think he has the potential to be a better player than Ellis, so I would pay him no less than $8 million per season, but I likely won’t go much higher than that. If you’re going above that, you’re going against your philosophy that you’ve established.

Taylor: I don't know about all the dollars and cents, and I don't care. I'll put it like this: You don't give a guy huge money that will potentially hamstring you from making other moves unless you think he's an All-Star caliber player. If you think Stephenson will be a perennial All-Star, then pay the man. But a max contract also means you want him to be a leader and a tone-setter and a guy who wants the responsibility of being "the man." If Stephenson doesn't want all of the responsibility that comes with the money, then let him go somewhere else. If he wants that or you think he wants that, then sign him.

MacMahon: The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of making Stephenson an offer that could make the luxury-tax-fearing Pacers pass. I don’t care if the Mavs get criticized for overpaying a guy who has only established himself as a really good role player at this point. He’s a 23-year-old who does a lot of things well. He’s a defensive stud, holding opposing shooting guards to a 10.7 PER, according to 82games.com. He’s averaging 14.2 points on 49.9 percent shooting and has a lot of room to grow offensively. He joins Kevin Durant as the only players averaging at least seven rebounds and five assists per game this season. The Golden State Warriors have no regrets about giving Andre Iguodala a four-year, $48 million deal, and he’s a 30-year-old who has achieved his potential. If you’re the Mavs, why not offer Stephenson a little more than that? Maybe he isn’t capable of developing into a superstar. At worst, he’d be the second-best player on the Mavs’ roster with the potential to get better.

3 Points: Why can't Mavs protect big lead?

January, 22, 2014
Jan 22
12:00
PM CT
Jose CalderonAP Photo/Rick ScuteriJose Calderon and the Mavericks are lacking on the defensive side of the ball.
ESPNDallas.com columnist Jean-Jacques Taylor and MavsOutsider.com editor-in-chief Bryan Gutierrez will join me each week to run a three-man weave on a few questions on the minds of Mavs fans.

1. Why can't the Mavs protect a big lead?


Gutierrez: It’s a mix of the natural ebbs and flows that an NBA game presents and the fact that Dallas is well below average in terms of defense and rebounding. In terms of analytics, they’re in the bottom 10 in the entire league in defensive rating and in the bottom three in rebounding percentage. What allows them to produce big leads is the fact they’re a top-six team in terms of offensive rating. That allows them to hit teams early and build a lead. They can’t get stops or rebound the ball, thus allowing teams to creep back into games with easy looks at the basket or second-chance opportunities. Unless they radically improve in terms of both defense and rebounding, games are going to continue to trend this way. It’s just a matter if they can find a way to protect them at the end or not.

Taylor: That's easy: They're a poor defensive team. Actually, they're an awful defensive team. It has more to do with their personnel because Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis are poor defensive players and Dirk Nowitzki can try as hard as he can, but he can't defend guys in space. On the nights Samuel Dalembert doesn't come to play, which happens frequently, then the defense is even worse than usual. We knew they were going to be a bad defensive team before the season and nothing has happened to change that narrative. The only way the Mavs can improve their defense is to play as hard as they can and use effort and competitiveness to mask their deficiencies.

MacMahon: The cliché is that everybody makes a run in the NBA. Well, that’s especially true against poor defensive teams. The Mavs have to play hard and smart to be average defensively. They had a disturbing tendency to get lazy when they get a big lead. Suddenly, there’s a bunch of penetration, back-door layups and wide-open 3-pointers for the opponent. It doesn’t help that the Mavs are prone to cold stretches because they’re still primarily a jump-shooting team, particularly when Ellis settles for jacking up shots instead of attacking the basket.

2. Whose minutes should be reduced now that Devin Harris is ready?


[+] EnlargeMonta Ellis
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesMonta Ellis may get more rest with the return of Devin Harris.
Gutierrez: I think it’s going to depend on the situation. If they need defense, like they did against Cleveland, Calderon is the one that has a drop off in minutes. In the big picture, I think their ultimate plan is to find a way to reduce Ellis’ minutes. He struggles just as much as Calderon does in terms of defense, but they need to preserve him over the course of the season due to how valuable he is on offense. He’s currently 12th in the league in minutes played. If they can find ways to knock Ellis’ minutes down by two or a three per game, that will have a huge impact on his ability to be fresh at the end of the season.

Taylor: I'd cut Calderon's minutes by a few as well as Ellis' in hopes their minutes will be even more productive and that they will be a little fresher toward the end of the season. Harris needs to be worked in slowly. He can help, but the Mavs need to make sure they don't rush him back and lose him again because he aggravates the injury.

MacMahon: Harris’ presence can ease the workload of Ellis and give Rick Carlisle a closing alternative to Calderon. But it could end up costing Jae Crowder the most minutes. It’s notable that Crowder, who the Mavs have occasionally used to defend point guards, played only six minutes Monday against the Cavaliers. Carlisle seems determined to give the Harris/Shane Larkin off-the-bench backcourt a good look at the least. That could limit Crowder’s role in the rotation.

3. Was Shane Larkin's 18-point, five-assist outing in Phoenix a flash in the pan or a sign of progress?


Gutierrez: It is a sign of progress. I mentioned in a previous 3 Points that he was the most disappointing player on the team. He just didn’t have the aggression that was being advertised when he was drafted. Now, he looks like he belongs on the floor and knows what he wants to do when he’s out there. He certainly had a great opponent to break out against in the road game against Phoenix as they’re not known for their defense. Though it hasn't been as flashy, Larkin’s done well in the games after the matchup with the Suns, so it certainly appears that he’s turning a corner in his development. His speed and athleticism could help on the defensive end of the floor. Larkin has already paired up with Harris since Harris made his debut, so it’s possible those two could be a spark off the bench, though they would be incredibly undersized.

Taylor: Everybody in the NBA is capable of having a terrific night. Earlier this season, Crowder had a great three-game stretch where he scored 18, 17 and 10 points. The he hit double figures just once in the next 21 games. Larkin has a nice skill set, but his minutes right now will be inconsistent. His future is bright, but whatever he gives the Mavs these days is a bonus.

MacMahon: It’d be silly to expect Larkin to put up those numbers on a regular basis as a rookie, but he has a great opportunity to carve out a significant role as a Barea-esque turbo boost off the bench. I look at J.J. Barea's numbers from his third season -- when he averaged 7.8 points and 3.4 assists in his first year as a full-time rotation player -- as the optimistic standard for Larkin the rest of the year. It’s worth noting that Larkin has the best plus-minus (plus-2.7 per game) of any guard on the roster.

3 Points: Can Dalembert get out of doghouse?

December, 11, 2013
12/11/13
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Samuel DalembertKevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesWill Brandan Wright's return from injury mean even less minutes for Samuel Dalembert?

ESPNDallas.com columnist Jean-Jacques Taylor and MavsOutsider.com editor in chief Bryan Gutierrez will join me each week to run a three-man weave on a few questions on the minds of Mavs fans.

1. Can Samuel Dalembert get out of the doghouse?


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Can Samuel Dalembert get back in Rick Carlisle's good graces?

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Discuss (Total votes: 642)

Gutierrez: It's looking like that mountain might be too hard for Dalembert to climb. To show how sad it has gotten for Dalemebert, he got a majority of his minutes against Sacramento when the game was no longer in doubt. Brandan Wright's return is approaching, thus limiting Dalembert's minutes more. With his contract only being partially guaranteed next season, it's shaping up to be that Dallas very well could be another one-and-done stop for Dalembert.

Taylor: The best thing about Rick Carlisle is that his doghouse is not permanent. All Carlisle wants is for players to fill their role. No more, no less. Dalembert isn't doing that. He's supposed to be an above-average defensive player who can give you a little offense. The reality is any team that signs him could not care less about his offense. What they want is consistent defense. Until he provides that, Blair is going to keep starting.

MacMahon: It’s hard to see that happening. Dalembert got demoted before Wright’s return, so it’s logical to think that there will be even less playing time for the big man signed to be the Mavs’ starting center once Wright is ready to roll. This can’t be considered a big surprise. Dalembert was the best of the leftover big men when Dallas had a desperate need to fill a huge hole in the roster this summer, but there’s a reason he’s bounced around the league so much. It always seemed like a matter of time before Dalembert’s tendency to coast wore out Carlisle’s nerves.

2. Is the buzzer-beating win over the Trail Blazers or the blowout loss to the Kings more meaningful in the grand scheme of things?


Gutierrez: I'm going to say the Portland win is more meaningful simply because they were susceptible to falling into the trap of an emotional letdown against Sacramento. That said, the Mavs should be fully aware that they can't afford to have any slippage and that they have to play the full 48 minutes in order to get a win.

Taylor: Nothing meaningful happens in the NBA until after the All-Star break. The win over Portland shows what the Mavs can do on a night they're focused and play well and the Kings loss showed them they're not good enough to mail in a performance against any team. These are all little lessons that help a team grow, learn and understand its capabilities. As long as they’re in the thick of the playoff race, no win or loss has huge implications attached to it until after the All-Star break.

MacMahon: I’ll say the slip-up in Sacramento, but that’s because it’s a night that Carlisle can use as a coaching tool the rest of the season. The Mavs aren’t good enough to assume a win against anyone, even a bad team with a depleted roster while waiting on the day after a trade. The thriller in Portland is proof that the Mavs are capable of competing against the West’s best. Maybe that’s a confidence boost, but I don’t think this team has any self-esteem issues. They have major defensive issues that require constant intensity and attention to detail to address. Just show up and lace up the shoes? Well, Carlisle can always remind his players of what happened in Sacramento.

3. What should the Mavs be willing to offer for Omer Asik?


Gutierrez: Dallas doesn't have a first-round pick to dangle, but it has pieces in the form of Shawn Marion, Brandan Wright, Samuel Dalembert and Vince Carter that, in theory, would be appealing to Houston. The problem with trading Marion away is you're creating another hole by trading him to acquire Asik. That said, Dallas knows how valuable a defensive-minded big man can be to this new core. For Asik, the Mavericks should be willing to pursue, whether Marion or the other players listed above are involved.

Taylor: Is he going to help them win a title? Is he a max contract player? Is he a budding superstar? I can't say we know enough to determine whether he's capable of being a perennial All-Star. Until we do, I'm not mortgaging what little future the Mavs have for him. Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis are safe. Everyone else is fair game -- not that I think the Rockets would want anything else.

MacMahon: The only three players on the roster I wouldn’t be willing to discuss in a deal for Asik are Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon. Anyone else is open game. I’ve floated the idea of offering Dalembert and Vince Carter -- an idea I borrowed with permission from Mavs broadcasting legend Bob Ortegel -- but those two guys haven’t exactly boosted their trade value. Marion for Asik? That makes some sense for the Rockets, but Houston might get more attractive offers. It’d create a hole at small forward, but it’d fill the Mavs’ desperate need for a dependable defensive force in the middle. The problem: The Rockets will probably get more attractive offers than the Mavs can reasonably make.

3 Points: Need for more assertive Dirk?

November, 13, 2013
11/13/13
12:00
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NowitzkiJerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsDirk Nowitzki is averaging 18.3 points and shooting 43.2 percent from the floor in eight games this season.
ESPNDallas.com columnist Jean-Jacques Taylor and MavsOutsider.com editor in chief Bryan Gutierrez will join me each week to run a three-man weave on a few questions on the minds of Mavs fans.

1. Does Dirk Nowitzki need to be more assertive offensively?

Gutierrez: At this point in the season, I don't think he needs to necessarily be more assertive on offense. What have the Mavs been saying since they won the title? Their goal was to make Nowitzki the second-best player on the team. It's extremely early, but now that he is, everyone is concerned about Nowitzki? New players are being incorporated and he's letting everyone find their groove. There's no need to panic. Dirk Nowitzki will be fine.

Taylor: I don't know if the answer is assertive, but I do know heading into the Washington game Dirk had not made more than five baskets in the last four games, which is not nearly enough. So whether Dirk needs to be more assertive or whether Rick Carlisle needs to call more plays that give him opportunities, all I know is Dirk needs to be more involved in the offense.

MacMahon: Yes. Dirk doesn't need to ever pass up a decent look. There have been times this season that he's passed to an open teammate instead of taking a jumper when he had a little room. There's no need for that. You're the sweetest-shooting 7-footer in NBA history. When in doubt, let it fly.

2. Jae Crowder is clearly the most improved Maverick. What are your expectations for Crowder the rest of the season?

[+] EnlargeJae Crowder
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsJae Crowder is shooting 54.2 percent from three-point range.
Gutierrez: Crowder will regress to the mean over the next few weeks, but we'll have to wait and see what the mean actually is. He shot 38.4 percent from the field and 32.8 percent from beyond the arc during his rookie season. Coming into the league, Crowder didn't have a jumper. If he can hover around being an average 3-point shooter, which I think is possible, that's a big development for the Mavs. The jury is still out on whether he can be an all-around threat for the team.

Taylor: In the NBA, the name of the game is consistency. I love the work Crowder has done in the offseason to make himself a true 3-point threat, but he was 2-for-5 with four points against Milwaukee and again against Washington. I think he'll be a consistent member of the rotation and he'll eventually get up to about 25 minutes a game.

MacMahon: He can be a quality rotation player, a guy who gives the Mavs about 20 good minutes per night. His shooting percentages are obviously going to drop -- he's sitting at .583 from the floor and .542 from 3-point range -- but he's put in enough work on his shot and his body to be a complementary offensive threat. The key to Crowder being a consistent contributor, however, is for him to be a mini-Matrix on defense. The Mavs need him to be versatile enough to guard good scorers at a few different positions. He's been up to the task so far.

3. How concerning are Vince Carter's early-season struggles?

Gutierrez: There's a mild concern when you think about the fact that Carter is going to turn 37 in early 2014. That's a lot of tread on the tires. That said, I'm going to chalk up the early-season struggles to a slump. Carter's shot looked very nice during the preseason, so he showed that he's still got it. The Mavs have enough depth on the bench this season that can help alleviate when someone is slumping. He should come around.

Taylor: Vince is what he is at this point of his career. On the nights he feels it, he can play 25 minutes and get you 16 points. On those nights he doesn't, he needs to play 15 minutes. This is what age does to a player. On a given night, he can still explode for 25, you just have no idea when it will happen. Vinsanity has retired. Vince Carter can still help the Mavs.

MacMahon: Carter snapped out of a mini-slump with 16 points on 6-of-13 shooting in Tuesday's win over the Wizards. The Mavs need that kind of performance to be closer to the norm for their sixth man. Father Time will be a factor some nights, but the Mavs will keep Carter's minutes in the mid-20s to make sure he's as fresh as possible and are counting on him to be productive in that limited time.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Dirk Nowitzki
PTS AST STL MIN
21.7 2.7 0.9 32.9
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsD. Nowitzki 6.2
AssistsM. Ellis 5.7
StealsM. Ellis 1.7
BlocksB. Wright 0.9