The Knicks have lost five of their last six games, so things are pretty dreary at the opponent. To make the postseason the Knicks have to go on a major run to end the season, so perhaps they’ll get back to winning tonight as they host the Dallas Mavericks.(LOL). To get a better idea of what the Knicks are up against tonight I brought in Kirk Henderson of Mavs Outsider and Tim Cato of Mavs Moneyball.
The Mavericks come into New York on a two-game winning streak and currently hold the 8th spot in the Western Conference. Do you think the team holds steady and makes the playoffs?
Kirk: Right now, I think most Mavs fans would say yes without reservation. I’ve been taking the schedule a month at a time because it’s been clear the March and April slate of games were going to be brutal for Dallas. The Mavericks have played above expectations, are 11 games over .500 and are STILL 8th in the West. So to answer your question, I’d give a tentative yes, though seeding will go down to the final day with Phoenix, Golden State, and Memphis right there in the mix for the 6-7-8 seeds.
Tim:I don’t see Minnesota getting back into the playoff picture — it’s a four-team race for the final three spots in the West, in my eyes. Between Golden State, Phoenix, Memphis and Dallas (2.5 games separates them all), it may just come down to the schedule. I think the Mavericks’ fate will be decided one way or another in the first half of March, where they some of the top teams in the league. If they can stay afloat and at least not fall back by more than a game or two, I like their chances of making a strong April push.
The Mavericks have eight players on the roster with above-average PER’s, but which role player(s) would you say have been the most critical for the Mavs success this season?
Kirk: I’d have to say Devin Harris. He’s only played the past 15 or so games, but he came back from his toe surgery at just the right time. He’s a bit of a jack-of-all-trades in a deep guard rotation for Dallas. Everyone knows that Monta Ellis is going to put his head down and drive at the basket. The same goes for Jose Calderon and shooting the ball from deep. Harris gives Dallas that x-factor off the bench that opposing teams can’t always match. He’s still surprisingly fast and a good enough shooter to cause havoc. When you pair him with Vince Carter and Brandan Wright, the Maverick bench unit is pretty formidable.
Tim:Brandan Wright and Vince Carter are the two players off the bench who can change a game or spark a big run. Wright can struggle on defense in some match-ups, but he’s a lethal pick-and-roll finisher and slips the pick better than anyone in the league. His favorite pick-and-roll handler is Vince Carter, who’s more man than amazing these days but still can explode for some scoring bursts when needed.
Offense is definitely not an issue for this year’s Mavericks team, but are 23rd in the league in DRtg. Why have they struggled so much defensively?
Kirk: Whatever the question is, if Samuel Dalembert is the answer then you’re doing it wrong. When three of your five starters are Dirk, Ellis, and Calderon, there are going to be holes, massive, endless holes in a defense. Shawn Marion is 35 and a capable defender, but he and Dalembert are not able to cover for the lack of defensive ability in the rest of their teammates. This was always going to be the case, though, which is why Dallas has often embraced absurd line ups featuring DeJuan Blair as the starting center. The goal of a basketball game is to score more than the other team and on most nights the Mavericks are able to overwhelm their opponents.
Tim:Up and down the roster, the Mavericks just have lots of weak defenders who play major minutes. It starts with Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis, includes DeJuan Blair and sometimes Wright, and of course has to include the 35-year-old Dirk. In fact, the team being as high as 23rd in the league is a testament to Shawn Marion’s ability to be everywhere at once, and Rick Carlisle’s sheer brilliance on hiding poor defenders. If the defense can play well enough to avoid losing games for the Mavericks, the offense can and has bailed them out time and time again.
The Knicks are giving up 106.2 points per 100 possessions, 27th in the league, but how would you go about slowing down this Mavericks offense if you’re the Knicks?
Kirk:Goad Monta Ellis into a tough shooting night. He’s the spark Dallas uses to get going most games, mainly through high screen and rolls with Dirk. If Ellis has an even marginal chance at taking a shot, he’s probably going to. When he’s off, it causes problems for the rest of the Dallas flow. Dirk Nowitzki will still get his no matter who is guarding him, but Calderon and the rest of the offense tend to rely on Monta’s drives to open things up for them. New York is really well suited to shutting down Dallas, as they did in the first match up.
Tim:Start with Dirk. Double him, not just when he gets hot, but from the very start. He won’t commit the turnover in most instances, but that’s not the point. The Knicks need to get the offense out of rhythm and flustered, and not being able to rely on the number one option to get them quality shots is the first step in that direction.
Who ultimately wins tonight and why?
Kirk: New York in a close one. Dirk will put up a lot of points because that’s what Dirk does, but Melo out duels him because Dallas doesn’t have anyone who can remotely contain him. Add in the fact that the other match ups really favor the Knicks; New York has size in the guard positions that Dallas can’t match. It’s also the third road game for Dallas and a team this old travel can wear them down. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Mavericks won, but I expect this to be a frustrating loss for Dallas fans.
Tim:A month ago, I would have said New York. But the Mavericks have won nine of 12, mostly by taking care of Eastern Conference teams that they’re better than. I’m not sure the Knicks offense can keep up, so plan for a 120-110 style shootout.