The Dallas Mavericks, after a hot start to the season, have fallen back into the middle of the Western pack. It will likely be a challenge for the Mavs to simply make the playoffs, let alone compete. Here's what owner Mark Cuban had to say about the team at the All-Star break (via Mavs Moneyball):
"With a couple exceptions, we've played well against good teams and played down against bad teams, and that's hurt us. Our second unit hasn't been good enough and we've really got to figure out how to make that better. Our first unit has actually been pretty good, and has actually performed up to our expectations most of the time, but we've got to be stronger with our bench."
Part of the Mavs' bench struggles have had to do with the fact that they can't figure out who to play. This Maverick team goes about 12 deep, and is built to off-set injuries and rest. So when everyone's healthy, it's hard to choose one player over another. Rick Carlisle is a mad scientist of a coach who's willing to experiment with just about any lineup, so it's anybody's guess as to who comes off the Mavs bench from night to night.
The lack of consistent minutes for most of the players on the bench is definitely a vote of non-confidence on Carlisle's part. The bench will always come on the floor with a starter these days. Carlisle's confidence is well founded, as the Mavs don't really have a standout offensive talent on the bench that can carry them. Everyone on the bench works best as a secondary offensive option.
More than that, the Mavs bench really doesn't have any wing depth. There are three combo point/shooting guards in Raymond Felton, J.J. Barea, and Devin Harris. The Mavs even have an ample stock of big men, with Dwight Powell, Salah Mejiri, Charlie Villanueva, and JaVale McGee. Pretty much every name I just mentioned is good enough to earn a regular role on an NBA team. But as far as the wing positions go, the Mavs only have Justin Anderson and Jeremy Evans. Anderson and Evans appear in the lineup infrequently, and neither of them average more than 3 points a game. In other words, because the Mavericks have no reliable wings on the bench, they're usually going to play a lineup that has some defensive flaws.
Next time you think that the Thunder's bench can't cut it....think of the Mavs bench. At least the Thunder can rely on Enes Kanter for consistent offensive production, and make an effort to match up at every position. (This is no discredit to Rick Carlisle, who has done a fantastic job with what little he has.)
The David Lee Dilemma
To address depth issues, the Mavericks picked up David Lee off waivers. Lee is well-known for his reserve role on last year's championship Golden State Warriors team. The NBA community appears to be very split on their opinion of David Lee. On the one hand, Lee is a two-time All-Star, and just two seasons removed from being a primary component of a very successful Warriors team. Even last season, Lee logged some valuable playoff minutes. On the other hand, Lee's defense was bad enough to sink him from the Warrior rotation last year. And this year, it only took 27 games for the Celtics to remove Lee from their rotation entirely.
The Mavericks seem like a good fit for Lee this year though. Lee will likely be backing up Dirk, and Dirk isn't exactly known for his fantastic defense. If the Mavericks are built to win with Dirk, than David Lee is about as close as you can get to a Dirk-lite. Sure, Lee rebounds better and Dirk is better from long-range. But essentially, both Dirk and Lee are back-to-the-basket post scorers. If Lee can become a consistent scorer from the post, it will seriously open up things for the combo guard trio of Felton, Harris, and Barea. Heck, Lee could make it so that the Mavs don't have to stagger their starters with their bench at all.
Nevertheless, that's all a bunch of "what if" at this point. Lee has been promised minutes, but not a featured role. Tonight, Lee is questionable to play, as he just joined the team. If Lee does enter the game, expect Billy Donovan to counter with Nick Collison. Lee used to play for Donovan at Florida, so Donovan knows what Lee is capable of.
The Roberson Conundrum
Hanging around in the background of tonight's game will be the status of Andre Roberson. In Sunday's game against the Cavaliers, Roberson was technically cleared to play. It was the first time Roberson had been eligible since spraining his right knee back on January 24th. However, Roberson didn't see a single minute of action. According to NewsOK, Coach Donovan wanted to get Roberson more contact during practice. Durant has been on record saying that the team is missing Andre's presence on the floor, so it's extremely likely that Roberson will be back in the lineup soon.
But it's anyone's guess as to whether Roberson plays or not. If Roberson were to play, he would be key in locking down the perimeter. Roberson is by far the Thunder's best perimeter defender, and is good at keeping Wesley Matthews honest. With the Mavericks so reliant on the three pointer, it would be really sweet to have Roberson back tonight.
The Competitive Balance of Thunder-Mavericks
Over the years, we've had some really fantastic battles between the Thunder and Mavericks. Despite the Thunder's record being 3-0, those matchups have been just as exciting this this season. Two of the games came down to the absolute wire. The third game was exciting in another way. The Mavericks rested all of their starters, and J.J. Barea managed to get Westbrook ejected.
With the Mavericks heading in healthy, they should be able to take this game down to the wire as well. These two teams are really balanced when it comes to the starters. Dirk is the Mavericks primary scorer, and he's negated by Ibaka. But the Thunder overwhelmingly rely upon Durant and Westbrook. So when KD and Westbrook can't put in the effort on the defensive end, it opens up things for Chandler Parsons and Deron Williams. Parsons and Williams are players that both primarily use their quickness to get space, and nail all of their open shots. Case in point, Parsons is averaging 19 PPG in two games against the Thunder. Similarly, Williams is averaging 20.5 PPG. Both are well over each player's respective season averages. By the same token, Dirk is averaging 12.5 points against the Thunder while averaging 17 on the season.
Why OKC should have the upper hand
Nevertheless, I feel very positively about the Thunder's ability to win this game. In OKC's first serious matchup with Dallas back in November, they were missing Kevin Durant. In OKC's second matchup with Dallas back in January, they were missing Steven Adams. Westbrook was really hurt by Adams absence in that game, as he had no one to create space for him. Given that Adams will play tonight, I see no reason why Westbrook shouldn't tear through the Mavs weak interior defense. Also, Parsons has never really been a consistent defensive problem for Durant.
When it comes to the benches, though, the Mavericks have always been able to keep pace. The Thunder's bench has star power, which works for them in a lot of instances. But Carlisle knows how to exploit the Thunder bench. Kanter is the #1 target usually, as Carlisle likes to put Kanter in pick and roll defense situations. OKC's bench also struggles to guard the perimeter, which is bad news when the Mavs have a plethora of combo guards.
At the end of the day, I feel like the Thunder have more motivation to win. OKC's blowout loss to the Cavaliers on Sunday was a disaster. Steven Adams was quoted as being "really mad, angry, and embarrassed" post-game. The Mavericks aren't world-beaters, but they are a big Western Conference rival. So bouncing back to close the Mavs out would go a long way towards proving the Thunder's legitimacy.
Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 112, Dallas Mavericks 105.
What do you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!
|2015-16 NBA Season Game 57|
|February 24th, 2016|
|The American Airlines Center, Dallas, Texas|
|7:30 PM Central Standard Time|
|TV: Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, Fox Sports Network Southwest|
|Injury Report: David Lee (Questionable)|
|This Season's Matchups: Nov 22 (W 117-114), Jan 13 (W 109-108), Jan 22 (W 109-106)|
|Deron Williams||PG||Russell Westbrook|
|Wesley Matthews||SG||Dion Waiters|
|Chandler Parsons||SF||Kevin Durant|
|Dirk Nowitzki||PF||Serge Ibaka|
|Zaza Pachulia||C||Steven Adams|