DALLAS -- The Mavericks have lost two of the last three games. Dirk Nowitzki looks old. If the playoffs started today, the Mavs would be back in the lottery.
Last week’s feel-good mailbag seems so long ago. At this point, it seems most MFFLs are awfully worried about this playoff push or already looking forward to the summer.
On to your questions ...
Do you think the Mavs may try to rest Dirk down the stretch? He's looked noticeably exhausted the past few games. -- @ItsaThomasThing on Twitter
I got several versions of this question this week. One faithful reader, @RamiMichail, went so far as to suggest sitting Dirk on Saturday night against the Sacramento Kings.
I’ll be absolutely stunned if that happens. It’s simply a luxury the Mavs can’t afford while fighting for their playoff lives.
Rick Carlisle said the subject hasn’t even been broached internally this week, adding that he talked to Nowitzki at length yesterday and was told that the big German feels fine physically. I’m not sure I buy that, especially after playing a pair of overtime games in the last week, but the Mavs don’t believe Nowitzki is at a point where he absolutely requires a game of rest right now.
“I don’t think he’d agree to sit right now anyway,” Carlisle said. “I think he’d fistfight all of us to keep playing.”
By the way, if Dirk is going to get a DNP-CD (OLD), I wouldn’t do it against a bad team. I’d sit him on the road April 3 against the Los Angeles Clippers, a game the Mavs aren’t likely to win anyway and the front end the only back-to-back left on the Mavs’ schedule.
What effect do you think the loss of Dwane Casey to the Raptors has had on the Mavs D since champ season? Any at all? -- @emptyflare on Twitter
Casey is one of the best defensive minds in the NBA. He’s also a Coach of the Year candidate this season, as his Toronto Raptors team that was supposedly tanking is in third place in the Eastern Conference. I can’t completely dismiss the impact his loss might have had on the Mavs’ defense, but I do believe Dallas defensive coordinator Monte Mathis is a good coach who has kept all the schemes and principles he learned while working under Casey.
This is much more of a personnel problem than a coaching issue. The Mavs knew they’d have major defensive challenges after putting the roster together this summer. They’d have to overachieve to be average defensively. Unfortunately, they’ve lived down to expectations on that end of the floor, ranking 22nd in defensive rating.
What's your gut feeling on the Mavs making playoffs? -- Jose (Dallas)
I keep saying that Phoenix will fade. The Suns keep hanging around. But I still see Phoenix as the odd team out with the Mavs getting eighth seed. Maybe they can make a couple of trips to San Antonio.
ESPN standings indicate Suns have the tiebreaker. Is that wrong? -- @allmyteamssuck on Twitter
That's technically accurate but totally irrelevant. That's because the Mavs-Suns season series stands at 1-1 and they only play one more time, so the tiebreaker between them will be decided April 12 at the American Airlines Center. By the way, the Mavs have already clinched the tiebreaker over Memphis.
How much better would the Mavs be with Carmelo Anthony THIS year? I'm just curious as to see where you think they would be right now in the Western Conference so us fans could project how the next few years with him might go if he picks Dallas. -- Bryan (Springdale, Ark.)
Don’t hold your breath on Melo signing with the Mavs. I’d say that’s an extreme long shot.
As far as your hypothetical goes, it’s hard to say without figuring out how they would have made room for Anthony on the roster. For the sake of discussion, let’s say that the Mavs wouldn’t have Shawn Marion, Vince Carter and Monta Ellis. I don’t think a team with Melo, Dirk and little depth is in much better shape than the Mavs are now.
Should the Mavs make a big reach for Lance Stephenson? He looks like he would be a big help in terms of putting a great two-way player (and young legs) in the backcourt. -- Ben (Columbus, Ohio)
I’ve been on board the Stephenson bandwagon, simply because he’s a versatile player who is already a high-quality starter and has a lot of room left to grow at only 23 years old. The problem is that you’d have to overpay to get him to leave the Indiana Pacers, who have made it clear that they don’t intend to pay luxury tax.
I wouldn’t mind the Mavs making an offer in the Andre Iguodala range (four years, $48 million). I’m pretty sure the Pacers would pass at that money despite Stephenson averaging 14.2 points, 7.3 rebounds and 4.7 assists for a team that leads the East.
My vision would be Monta Ellis coming off the bench as the modern-day Jet with Stephenson starting next to Jose Calderon. Would Ellis embrace or even accept that role? I have no idea, but that’s part of the equation the Mavs must figure out before deciding if they want to make a serious run at Stephenson.
Who is the Mavs best prospect for a center upgrade this summer? -- Jared (Richmond, Va.)
Marcin Gortat is the big man who makes the most sense. Remember, his contract that expires this summer was originally an offer sheet he signed as a restricted free agent with the Mavs, who were surprised when the Orlando Magic matched it.
Gortat is a good pick-and-roll finisher, a solid interior defender and is averaging 12.8 points and 9.4 rebounds as a 30-year-old this season. My guess is he’ll get a four-year deal in the $40 million range. Starting centers don’t come cheap, and the Washington Wizards are well under the cap, so they should have no problem making a strong bid to keep their big man.
Other than Gortat, I don’t see a traditional big man entering free agency who would be much of an upgrade over Samuel Dalembert, whose contract next season is partially guaranteed. Greg Monroe? More of a power forward who doesn’t fit defensively next to Dirk. Pau Gasol? Same thing, and he’s made it clear that finding a contender will be his goal in free agency.
Hey, maybe they could give Chris Kaman a call again. Just kidding.