With tonight's game looming against division rival Dallas Mavericks, I spoke to Rob Mahoney, who covers the Mavericks regularly on his blog, The Two-Man Game.
The Mavericks have also started this season off with an impressive 24-6 record and if you think they might be vulnerable away from the American Airlines Center, they are an even more impressive 11-1 on the road.
Rob and I discussed the game-plan for tonight's game, the matchups and Dirk Nowitzki's play-by-play prowess.
1. What is the status on Dirk and what exactly does "take that with you" mean?
It could definitely change between now and game time, but at present Dirk seems doubtful for Thursday's game. His injury isn't too serious (he's still listed as day-to-day), but the Mavs have no business rushing him back into the lineup, even for a pretty big game against San Antonio.
As for his play-by-play exclamation...I'm baffled. The phrase should become a classic Dirkism as far as I'm concerned, but for now, I'll chalk it up to the random bout of on-air nonsense.
2. We all watched as the Lakers stopped Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, but still lost. What will the Mavs do to try to solve the San Antonio Spurs' balanced offense?
The Spurs' offense clearly isn't some easily solvable solution, even if the elements in the formula are fairly obvious. So the Mavs will do what they can to limit whatever avenues they can. They'll run shooters off the three-point line, use the zone to prevent as much penetration as possible, and assign their best man defenders on Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Tim Duncan. Hopefully they'll still be mindful of George Hill and Richard Jefferson, but if the defense is executed properly, those players should be accounted for, anyway.
3. While the San Antonio Spurs have the NBA's top record and are the hottest team right now, especially after an impressive win against the Lakers, what are you're reasons for why the Mavs may be more primed for a long postseason run into the Finals?
I'm not entirely sold on the Mavs over the Spurs as a Finals candidate myself, but if I were building their case, I'd start with the following:
Better record against quality teams. The Mavs have had one of the toughest schedules in the NBA this season, and they've thrived even against that high level of competition. Dallas has played two more games against .500+ teams than San Antonio, and have the second win percentage (.817) in such games while S.A. is ranked 16th in win percentage against .500+ teams (.754). That's not a glaring difference, but the Mavs have performed better against winning teams, and won the sole match-up between the two Texas teams this season.
Defense. I heard once that defense wins championships, and the Mavs are 1.7 points per 100 possessions better on the defensive end than the Spurs. Again, not an overwhelming number, but the line between the two teams is fairly thin, so you take the statistical distinctions as you can find them.
Wild Card! The Spurs are pretty much a finished product, whereas the Mavs are still missing their second most productive scorer (per minute) from last season: Rodrigue Beaubois. The second-year guard won't be available for Thursday, but by playoff time, he should be in full effect. No one knows where Beaubois will pick up once he returns from injury (a broken foot and the subsequent rehab have kept him out of the lineup thus far this season), but the possibility of a mid-season addition without as much as a trade is interesting.
4. If you were the head coach tonight, what would your gameplan be for a win against the Spurs?
First of all, I'd be pretty daunted; the Spurs are a hell of a team, and I'm not envious of any head coach who has to game-plan against them. That said, I'd start with Manu Ginobili. He's the most dangerous of San Antonio's three stars, in my estimation, and the player which I'd most like to curtail. I trust Tyson Chandler (and Brendan Haywood, to an extent) to challenge Duncan in the post, at the elbow, and in the pick-and-roll, and I trust the combination of the Mavs' perimeter D and team defense (especially the zone) to rein in Parker. Ginobili is such an explosive scorer, and when he's rolling, it won't matter who's defending him. That said, I'd be sure to give him my damnedest, and blanket him with as many defenders as necessary while still respecting the Spurs' top individual threats.
It's not a perfect plan, and it leaves the defense vulnerable to Hill, Jefferson, Gary Neal, etc., but it's what I've got. I'd have an eye on Manu at all times, and if that plays right into Pop's hand, so be it.
5. The Mavericks and Spurs are on a bit of a role reversal this year as the Spurs are winning with offense and the Mavs are winning with defense, especially down low. Which one wins the game tonight?
The Spurs' offense, and the Mavs' lack of offense. Without Dirk, the Mavs are pretty hopeless offensively. Dallas is structured in a way that maximizes Dirk's talents but also makes the team incredibly reliant on his scoring, spacing, and offensive presence. Take him out of the mix, and the effectiveness of Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, Caron Butler, et al are all slashed. A fully operational Mavs team would have their work cut out for them with the Spurs, but they don't have much of a chance without Nowitzki.
Thanks to Rob for taking the time to give us his perspective on the Mavs for tonight's game, and make sure to come back tomorrow for the "Morning After" and Robby Lim's "Stats of the Game."