Mallory was originally supposed to do this post, but he just sent me an email that said, “They’re going to suck. Mark Cuban regrets the last two years. Blah.”
As with all things in life, it’s not quite that simple.
Last Season: The Mavericks limped to a 41-41 season, hurt by the months long absence of Dirk Nowitzki and various injuries to Darren Collison, Shawn Marion, Rodrique Beaubois, and Chris Kaman. They mounted a noble effort just to get to .500, and for their efforts, they were allowed to shave.
What they’ve done this off-season: Many of last season’s rotation players were one year rentals or on the last year of their deal. O.J. Mayo, Chris Kaman, and Elton Brand all left, and in their place the Mavs picked up free agents Monta Ellis, José Calderón, Devin Harris, Samuel Dalmbert, DuJaun Blair, and Wayne Ellington as rotation players. They drafted uber athletic point guard, Shane Larkin of Miami, and Ricky Ledo who did not play in college last year because of eligibility issues. Dallas also added an intriguing prospect from Israel, Gal Mekel. To top that all off, they also added a large number of bottom of the roster players to fight for a bench spot: Fab Melo, Jared Cunningham, Devin Ebanks, D.J. Kennedy, and Micky McConnel. Whew! That was exhausting.
Only Dirk, Vinsanity, Beaubois, Brandan Wright, and Shawn Marion remain from last year’s squad, so this is a partial reboot. There will be lots of competition for minutes, and the Mavs have the possibility of fielding a very deep team that can survive injuries to everyone but Dirk. The Mavs are playing money ball and trying to build a team around Dirk’s last couple years of stardom. Perhaps they’ll have luck with this collection of players with unique skill sets who can play multiple positions. If anyone can find out what sticks when Donnie Walsh throws a bunch of crap at the wall, it’s Rick Carlisle.
How they match up with the Cavs: Cleveland should be able knock these guys around inside. Brandan Wright is a good pick and roll defender, and Dalembert will block a couple shots, but going to the post and attacking the basket should be the key to beating this team. Tristan, Andy, and Bynum should be able to score a lot of points. Kyrie and Dion needs to drive and post up against Calderón and Ellis, who’ve never been stellar defenders. I can see Dallas going to Wayne Ellington on defense a lot in crunch time. But, Dallas will run an efficient offense, push the ball, and avoid turnovers. Calderón is one of the best in the league at protecting the ball (career 4:1 assist to turnover ration), and Marion, Nowitzki, and Carter should run an efficient offense that can space the floor. Ellis should be able to up his efficiency too, because he’ll have some help when it comes to scoring. The Cavs have to defend, get back on defense, and avoid turnovers. They should be able to win if they exploit their advantages on the boards and scoring inside.
The match-up to watch: Dirk Nowitzki vs. Anderson Varejao has always been one of my favorite NBA match-ups. Andy seems to relish the battle and getting under Dirk’s skin. As they age, it should be interesting to see if Andy just sits on Dirk’s jumper daring him to drive, and if Dirk can keep Andy off the boards. Of course, I also relish watching Kyrie eviscerate Calderón’s defense, or lack thereof.
Other Thoughts: As many advantages as the Cavs have, I worry that this is a team that can beat Cleveland through execution and coaching. Carlisle is one of the league’s best. I don’t doubt that Dallas will be very tough in the last two minutes of games. They have the depth to go offense/defense. They also have the half-court offense, free throw shooting, and low turnover rate to play the possession game. The keys for the Cavs will be rebounding: an area where Dallas is vulnerable, and just playing smart basketball. Lets hope that the Cavs and Mike Brown are up to the task.