When I looked at the schedule for this week in thinking about which game I should do a Q&A on, tonight's Mavericks game stared me right in the face and with the way the Mavs showed the Spurs the door in last year's playoffs, I knew this was the game. I got a chance to talk to Rob Mahoney of The Two Man Game to preview tonight's game.
1. A lot of people are ignoring Dallas when it comes to talking about who will come out of the Western Conference. What would you say to the people that say it'll be between the Lakers and Celtics to decide who will go on to the Finals?
I would say 'Wise up.' These things rarely turn out exactly as planned. An injury here, a Gasol trade there, and the entire conference landscape can change in the blink of an eye. The Mavs have all the offensive weapons necessary to be a dangerous team, and the defense is looking rock steady. Dallas certainly has the power to significantly alter the playoff picture, whether it's winning it outright, taking out a contender before falling short, or even something as simple as wearing down a team like the Lakers with a tough road ahead.
2. Both the Mavs and Spurs added some key pieces in the offseason with the Spurs getting Jefferson, McDyess and Blair among others and the Mavs picking up Shawn Marion, Tim Thomas, Drew Gooden and Rodrigue Beabois. Which team made the changes that will have the most impact this season?
It's gotta be the Spurs. Jefferson, McDyess, and Blair can all be huge factors in the Spurs' rotation, whereas Shawn Marion is the only Mavs addition performing up to snuff. Drew Gooden has been alternating between shades of bad and awful, and though I'm holding out for a turnaround, I don't think he can match Blair's activity level. Thomas and Beaubois are relegated to role player duties, and though each has their respective strengths, they're not going to improve the team on an every-night basis. That's the impact that Jefferson, McDyess, and Blair are having, and though it hasn't quite come together for SanAn on the defensive end, I wouldn't worry. That Popovich guy is pretty good at his job, so I hear.
3. Does Jason Kidd have a chance against Tony Parker, assuming he plays, or will Carlisle adjust and start Kidd with Barea, who has given the Spurs fits?
I wouldn't be surprised if Carlisle used either Kidd, Howard, or even Shawn Marion to defend Parker from opening tip. Countering TP's speed with length could be the most effective approach when Barea isn't on the floor. Even though J.J. does cause some problems for the Spurs (as you mentioned), I just don't see Carlisle fiddling with his starters right now. Josh Howard is still working his way back from an ankle injury, and establishing an early game rhythm with Howard and the rest of the starters is going to be key.
All of that said, I wouldn't completely count Kidd out. While he's not exactly as fast as lightning these days, the Mavs' D has looked much better this season than in years past. I'm hoping that those improvements will help Kidd to contain Parker should that be Carlisle's match-up of choice, but otherwise the defensive game plan may be geared towards taking away the rest of the Spurs' 3-pointers. Or hey, maybe TP sits out tonight and spares Rick the headache.
4. Does anyone on the Spurs have a chance against Dirk Nowitzki, and what do you think Pop will have to do to keep Dirk from going off like he did against New Orleans?
Dirk has always been in a strange no man's land when it came to San Antonio (not that other teams are necessarily more equipped). Bruce Bowen and Tim Duncan were both great defenders, but Dirk could take advantage of either player in different ways. For the record, I don't think the current Spurs cast has a chance against Dirk, but if I had to nail down the best possible option, I would probably go with Richard Jefferson. Smaller, athletic defenders don't consistently give Dirk trouble like they used to, but given the other match-ups (Bonner? McDyess? Blair?) it's definitely worth a shot.
5. Spurs fans like to call Dirk "Irk" and sometimes say "there's no D in Dallas." After watching your latest Moving Pictures video, would you say that is just a misconception? Is Rick Carlisle the reason for this focus on team defense?
I think it's a huge misconception. Earlier in his career, Dirk was miserable on defense. But he's shown remarkable improvement since that time, and his public perception has just never caught up. He's not as slow on the perimeter as others may have led you to believe, and a surprisingly decent on-ball post defender. The only reason Nowitzki doesn't log more time at center is mostly due to an attempt by Carlisle and his staff to shield Dirk from needless fouls.
As for the Team D, it's a combination of Carlisle's mentality and the additions of Shawn Marion and Quinton Ross. Defense, defense, defense has been the company line since the end of last season, and was items A, B, and C on the agenda at training camp. It shows, and the Mavs' defense (1st quarter against Houston last night excluded) has looked awfully strong.
6. In your opinion, what is the key matchup for tonight's game and what's your prediction?
The ankles of Tony Parker and Tim Duncan vs. The Spurs' medical staff. Those two change everything, and if their 'doubtful' status translates into watching from the sidelines, the Mavs should be able to coast to a win despite their tired legs.
Mavs by 14.
Though it's worth noting that the Spurs beat the Mavs under similar circumstances last year, although if I remember correctly it was without Duncan and Ginobili. Fingers crossed that we don't see a repeat of that flub.
Thanks to Rob for taking the time out to answer our questions. Feel free to comment below with your thoughts on his answers.
Live Show Tonight
We'll be going live right here on ProjectSpurs.com starting at 6:30 p.m. CST tonight to preview the Spurs vs. Mavericks game.
Aside from previewing the game, we'll be taking your calls throughout the night at 210-757-0847 and have two giveaway.
The live stream will be audio only and we'll also have a live chat set up to interact with us and chat with other Spurs fans.
We'll stop right before the game starts and when it ends, we'll be back live for postgame recap and react, and we'll have plenty of time for your calls to talk about the game, win or loss.
Again, we will start at 6:30p.m. CST and go until about 7:25 p.m.and come back on right after the game. Look forward to talking to you all tonight.