Spurs at Mavericks Give and Go Preview

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Winners of six in a row and boasting two Western Conference All-Stars, the San Antonio Spurs face the Dallas Mavericks tonight. After a rocky start to the season without Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas has started to put things together and is just three games out of eighth playoff spot with 40 games to go.

The Mavs have won five of their last six games and what looks like a boring game in the standings may turn out to be quite a fun affair. The Spurs will be without Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich once again, neither boarded the team’s flight to Dallas on Thursday, but Kawhi Leonard is with the team and could play.

To preview the evening’s action, Kirk Henderson of ESPN TrueHoop Network Mavs site The Two Man Game and SB Nation’s Mavs Moneyball joined me to get some background on the Mavs and bring up Dwight Howard.

Andrew McNeill, 48 Minutes of Hell: Last time we saw the Spurs and Mavs play, Dirk was still just getting his feet under him and the Spurs were rolling. How is Dallas playing right now?

Kirk Henderson, The Two Man Game: The team’s actually looking good. After losing nine of 10 dating back to late December, they’ve won five of six. The one loss was in overtime to the Thunder where Dirk shot something like 4-for-18. It’s odd, his scoring hasn’t really been present, but the mere threat of him seems to have opened up the offense for everyone else.

AM: That makes sense. Watching Dallas early in the season, it seemed like there were five guys on the floor on offense looking to play off of some sort of go-to guy. But there wasn’t that type of guy out there.

KH: Chris Kaman thinks he’s that guy. smdh

AM: Has Dirk started to improve? Is he still the same ol’ Dirk?

KH: I’m not sure. During a game against Utah, the ever-annoying Matt Harpring made some interesting remarks: he noticed Dirk was NOT putting the ball on the floor. He either shot or passed immediately. He’s gotten a little better in recent weeks, but his offense still looks forced. Part of that is his new teammates not having a good grasp (or ability?) of where to get him the ball so that he can be effective. But he might also simply be getting older. This team has a lot more offensively-minded guys than last year so he seems to be willing to give up some of his offense the first three quarters to get everyone else involved. I hope he’s still the same guy, but it’s really hard to tell, even after so many games.

AM: I did a 5-on-5 earlier in the season and I announced that I thought the Mavs would still make the playoffs because Dirk was coming back and Rick Carlisle is a great coach. I thought Dirk was going to come back a little sooner than he did, however. Is Dallas in too big of a hole to get to the 8th spot?

KH: I write for two Mavs websites and I’ve been the loudest Eeyore when it comes to the Mavs chances of making the playoffs. I wanted them to blow it up early. As recently as two weeks ago I was still certain this whole attempt to make the playoffs was futile. Then the Lakers kept falling. Houston’s struggled, same with the Timberwolves. Portland has no depth to speak of. Dallas has an outside shot, with 40 something games left, to make it. They’ve lost 8 of 9 overtime games this year. Had they won half those games they lose, they’d be in the eighth seed right now. Let’s put it this way… for the first time since Dirk’s knee surgery was announced I feel some hope. Of course making the playoffs and getting swept seems pointless to me (hey there, mediocrity treadmill), but what do I know…

AM: So I hear Dwight Howard is available…

KH: The comedy potential of Dwight Howard pulling these shenanigans with Mark Cuban as a vocal owner and Rick Carlisle as a no nonsense sort of guys is limitless. I’d also have a heart attack. I think Tim McMahon of ESPNDallas pointed out that the LA-to-Dallas pipeline has not been kind to Dallas, with Fat Lamar Odom coming to town, followed by the corpse of Derek Fisher (who actually wasn’t terrible). Dallas has no pieces to get him out right, but if he were to come to town as a free agent, that could be fun, particularly if Shawn Marion were to stay. A Marion-Nowitzki-Howard front court could be really strange and fun to watch.

I’m also still bitter Mark Cuban let Tyson Chandler walk. They worked together. In the previous 12 years of Dirk’s time, the closest thing he had to a functional defensive center was DeSagana Diop for the last 30 games of the ’06 season.

AM: Why is Dwight so high on Dallas? Is it just because Mark Cuban throws his weight around financially? I don’t know if Dwight knows this, but Dallas as a city kind of sucks.

KH: There’s pretty ladies though!

AM: True. But he had that in Orlando. Divorcés!

On a related note, the transformation of Dwight from the “is he too christian to be marketable” guy coming into the NBA Draft to the person we have now is fascinating.

KH: Jeez, isn’t it?

I think it has to be the ownership aspect, paired with the ability to take over from a big star. Cuban’s worked hard to make Dallas a place players should consider. He treats everyone well. There’s no leaks from inside the org to the media (unless tthey serve a purpose). I also wonder if playing in a town where basketball isn’t king holds some appeal after Orlando and then LA. If we’re being honest, Dallas basketball ranks behind the Cowboys, the Rangers, and local high school football. It matters from Feb to April and on.

AM: Dwight should probably just play in whatever city Tony Romo plays in. He’ll at worst be the second-most-criticized player in town.

KH: The sports page can have daily turnover tallies.

AM: Alright, back to the actual Dallas Mavericks. We’ve spent too many words on Dwight, as fun as it is.

What happened to Darren Collison?

KH: Sorry wife had a question…

…Sorry, trying to think how to actually answer this….

…He’s a maddening player, because he’s capable of such brilliant play in the fast break, but he’s also shockingly terrible on defense. I question whether he understands passing angles at all. As with a lot of things I believe we can trace his effectiveness this last month back to Dirk’s return. Collison thrives on space and the ability to penetrate and Dirk’s really helped open the floor. He’s cut down on his turnovers and has developed a really nice open court chemistry with OJ Mayo. I’m pretty positive he’s not the point guard of the Mavericks future, but he’s improved a lot. He’s also better than Mike James, Roddy Beaubois, Derek Fisher, or any one else Dallas has tried out at the spot.

AM: Everyone is better than Mike James.

KH: The 3 he took at the end of the overtime against the Thunder was the day after he signed a second 10-day contract. Doubt we’ll see him much longer in Dallas.

AM: We were watching that in the San Antonio media room. We couldn’t believe he took that shot. Well, we could and we couldn’t.

KH: James has a PER of 2.3, is giving up a TS% of 61 and guards going against James put up a PER of 36.5

AM: Fantastic.

KH: Those stats were courtesy of my friend Josh Bowe at Mavs Moneyball. I died when reading them.

AM: Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich won’t be at the game on Friday night. Will the Mavs be able to force Tony Parker into enough turnovers and take advantage of Duncan’s absence inside in order to win?

KH: I was going to ask you about that… who becomes the defensive stopper for SA?

AM: Danny Green is best perimeter defender if Kawhi Leonard is out. Leonard travelled with the team and is questionable for the game, I believe. Inside, the Spurs are vulnerable without Duncan.

KH: And… probably not. Dallas has no rim protector when Elton Brand isnt playing and none of the guards are very good at defending the pick and roll. I expect Parker to get to the rim early and often and when he does meet resistance itll be due to rotations, which will leave the Spurs slew of three point shooters wide open to make me yell at the TV all night.

AM: Elton Brand is Dallas’ rim protector? It’s worse than I thought….

KH: I know. Chris Kaman isn’t it. Dirk is the matador. Bernard James could be if he weren’t 6’8″. Brand did to this though. Time machine!

I expect a non-blowout, but Dallas hasn’t been able to close games at all this season and SA has the ability to make them pay for mistakes, unlike some of the teams the Mavs have beat recently.

AM: Alright, the last thing I need before I let you go is a random prediction from the game. Something that has nothing to do with the final score.

KH: Ohhhhh. This could be fun. Look for Chris Kaman to shoot the ball an absurd number of times early. Dallas seems to like to try to get him going. Also, I expect a Roddy Beaubois air ball because, man, is he bad at basketball.

AM: I remember when he was the future of the Mavs. Now Nando De Colo is higher on the French National team depth chart.

KH: He’s he guy who shows up at the YMCA who is so athletic… but after three or four games you know his tells and he’s easy to defend. He has no idea how to play organized basketball or how to use his athletic abilities. When he shoots lay ups they’re often as bad as turnovers because they go off the rim so wierdly that its results in fast break points. I… do not care for him.

AM: That’s usually not conducive to NBA success.

KH: Dallas has a real issue with player development. And drafting. And uggggh god Dirk covers over all their mistakes. I am bitter.