1. How much of a difference does it make whether the Mavs face the Thunder or Spurs?
Gutierrez: It makes a dramatic difference. Dallas has the advantage in coaching and bench support against Oklahoma City. At best, they're even in those categories against San Antonio. The Spurs struggle against younger and athletic teams. No one will confuse the Mavericks as either of those. Dallas has lost nine straight to their neighbors to the south. Meanwhile, the recent run of success against the Thunder should give the Mavericks more confidence if they were to matchup in the first round. I think a series against San Antonio would be death by paper cuts, while a series against Oklahoma City would potentially be death by technical knockout.
Taylor: The Mavs really have no chance to beat San Antonio in a seven-game series. The Spurs are too disciplined and too good offensively and defensively for the Mavs to beat them. The have virtually no chance to beat Oklahoma City, but it's more of a chance than they have to beat San Antonio. First, they beat Oklahoma City the last two times they've played them even though OKC didn't have its full squad either time. So much of professional sports is about confidence. The Mavs believe they can beat Oklahoma City. In their heart of hearts, I don't know that they believe they can beat the Spurs. They will compete, but I don’t know if they believe when it comes to San Antonio.
MacMahon: The Mavs wouldn’t be favored in either series, but they’d at least have a shooter’s chance against the Thunder. They’d be in serious jeopardy of getting swept by the Spurs. You can debate how much stock should be put in Dallas’ two March wins over Oklahoma City, but they at least gave the Mavs reason to believe they can beat the Thunder. That doesn’t exist against a San Antonio team that hasn’t lost to the Mavs since Jason Kidd was playing point guard in Dallas. The Mavs’ ball movement gives the Thunder big problems. If the Mavs are hot from 3-point range, they’ve got a shot to beat the Thunder.
2. How much do you trust Monta Ellis in a playoff series?
Gutierrez: I have my concerns about him if they play the Spurs. They're simply surgical. They see what works for you and they try to take it away. That was one of the bigger things I noticed in the recent matchup when it came to Jose Calderon. They ran him off his jumper and he looked like a completely different player. I would be concerned about them being able to negate Ellis as a strength, but that's not necessarily a trust issue. In the general sense, I don't see Ellis as a guy who is going to shy away when the lights are bright. He's shown the mental fortitude to rise up to the moment. For this playoff run, I don't see him regressing back to his old inefficient ways and he should be the heavy hitter we've come to expect this season.
Taylor: I don't know why you wouldn't trust Ellis, considering he's had a terrific season. He's a quality player and he averaged 19 points a game and he's coming off a week where he was named Western Conference Player of the Week. His confidence should be at an all-time high and the Mavs need him. He's only been to the playoffs twice in his career, so he should be excited and ready to play.
MacMahon: I trust Ellis in clutch situations as long as he’s not at the free-throw line. He has some major O.J. Mayo tendencies on free throws in the final minute of close games, but other than that, Ellis has proven he’s a rise-to-the-moment kind of guy this season. He’s been money in fourth quarters since the All-Star break and was spectacular against the Phoenix Suns in what was essentially a playoff game. Their games are different, but Ellis’ mentality and confidence reminds me of Jason Terry, Dirk Nowitzki’s sidekick on two Finals teams and the proud owner of a prophetic tattoo of the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
3. What’s the biggest key to the Mavs beating the Grizzlies?
Gutierrez: Ball security is likely going to be the biggest thing for Dallas in the matchup with Memphis. Outside of Dirk Nowitzki being Dirk Nowitzki, there weren't many positive trends in each of the previous three games, but the Mavericks having fewer turnovers was one of those few constants. Memphis is one of the slower teams in the league in terms of pace and they're one of the better teams in terms of defensive efficiency (DRtg). If they're able to force turnovers through physical play, that will take Dallas out of their comfort zone. Ball security will be key if Dallas wants to go for the season series sweep.
Taylor: The Mavs have to control the boards because Memphis is capable of pounding them on the glass. They also have to play some interior defense or Memphis will shoot 60 percent with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph in the paint. The key for the Mavs is to push the tempo and score in transition where they can get some easy buckets.
MacMahon: You two might actually know what you’re talking about. I cheated on this question and asked Rick Carlisle, who cited ball security and rebounding as the two biggest keys to beating Memphis. “Ball security is probably as big as anything, but rebounding is huge because it’s possessions,” Carlisle said. “That’s how they control tempo of the game, is by controlling possession. They’re a hard team to turn over and yet they’re one of the better teams at turning the opponent over. When you can control the possession by stealing the ball and going and getting it out of the air, you have a couple of things really going for you. Rebounding is big and taking care of it’s big.”