The Pistons are looking to bounce back from a very frustrating performance against the Memphis Grizzlies on the second half of a very tough back-to-back on the road against the Dallas Mavericks. Without Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavs are a shadow of what they were when they beat Miami Heat in the NBA Finals in 2011. However, upsetting them at home on the second game is as many nights will prove no easy task.
Game tips at 9 p.m. EST.
Detroit Pistons 5-12 (1-9 road)
Dallas Mavericks 7-9 (5-3 home)
Like the Pistons, we're taking our show on the road tonight. Kirk Henderson, from Mavs Moneyball, and I exchanged some friendly questions and answers about our respective teams given that we match up so infrequently. You can read his questions and my responses over at Mavs Moneyball.
I asked Kirk to help shed some light on the state of the Mavs, both as currently constructed and how they might look just a few short weeks away.
1. What is the goal for the Dallas Mavericks this season? From what I can piece together as an outsider, it appears to me that Mark Cuban and his staff are attempting to piece together one last run for Dirk. Is that an accurate assessment?
Great question, because depending on who you ask in the Mavs fan community, you're bound to get a wildly different answer. As you know, Cuban essentially blew up the 2011 title team in an attempt to get under the cap for roster flexibility reasons and to go after big name free agents. The FA aspect, to this point, has been an utter failure, as Deron Williams resigned with the Nets, and CP3 and Dwight Howard are likely to resign with their current teams. The current roster is the result of GM Donnie Nelson picking up the pieces. However, with Dirk's injury the team has struggled mightily with the exception of an early season win streak. We've had huge issues with rebounding and the point guard position, the latter resulting in the signing of Derek Fisher (who will possibly START tonight). This move alone prompted what our editor LJ referred to as a Mavs MoneyBrawl which can be read here and here.
The initial plan was to retool in order to surround Dirk with high quality teammates as he entered the twilight of his career. I think it's failed (though opinion varies) and the goal now just seems to be to not be terrible. It's a shame. I personally feel the front office has done a very bad job, for the most part, of surrounding Dirk with talent over the years. I mean look at the 2006 finals team. DeSagana freaking Diop was the starting center.
2. I've been a pretty big O.J. Mayo skeptic, but it looks to me like he's done a very nice job in a (interim?) lead role. What are your thoughts on his play so far?
I'm still a skeptic and I've seen all the games thus far. He's been put in a position to succeed, he has the backing of the coaching staff, and he's indicated a willingness to be coached. The results so far are more positive than negative as he's had some lights out shooting games and some spectacular performances. Mayo's also had some really horrible games, the Bulls game, for example, where he just disappears (4 points in 35 minutes) or the latest Lakers game where he let Ron Artest score 12 points in the first quarter because he was lazy on defense.
It's so hard to assess his game because, frankly, he's too old to not know how to do some of the things he needs to do to become successful as a NBA shooting guard, like coming off screens, operating as the ball handler in the pick and roll, etc. The talent is there, as he's been amazing a number of times (the OT versus the Golden State Warriors) but it's so tough to see where his ceiling is.
3. Jae Crowder was a stat stuffer's dream coming out of college, and I was entirely unsurprised to see Dallas select him when they did. What kind of NBA future does he have?
He needs to find, or rather re-establish, his niche, which for now is going to be that of garbage man. In summer league and pre-season he lit up the basketball world by doing that one thing which so many guys don't do: he played incredibly hard. He's had an up and down season so far, as he's been tasked with guarding some of the best small forwards in the game (Carmelo Anthony, for one) when Shawn Marion was out with an injury, and at this point in his career that's asking too much of him.
He reminds me so much of a rookie Josh Howard, who was excellent at getting his hands on loose balls, offensive rebounding, and put put backs. Unfortunately, the up and down play for the entire Mavericks team has really had an effect on Crowder's game, and he's been forced to do things which aren't a staple to his game. He'll be around the league for 10 years though, so everyone should pay attention to his development.
4. Rick Carlisle was praised as one of the most brilliant coaches in the game when Dallas handled Miami in the 2011 NBA Finals. And I was a big fan of him when he coached the Pistons. However, the 2011-2012 season wasn't as kind to the Mavs, and the Mavs currently have a losing record. What's your take on Carlisle?
I think he's great. Obviously coaches get a lot of credit when they have great players, because it's a players' league. But when you get down to game planning and the details once the playoffs move forward, having a coach who can make adjustments on the fly is huge. Give Carlisle a team like the Thunder or the Lakers, and they are 60 win squads. Last season and this season are extreme challenges, simply because standards were and are high; Dallas has made the playoffs for 12 straight years.
Last year Lamar Odom was a huge problem and his lack of effort and consistency really hurt the team as it was starved for playmakers. This year's team is different in that it has a lot of nice pieces, many of them are simply old or have clear ceilings. Dirk will mask some of that when he comes back, of course, but for now, Carlisle is doing a great job with the questionable pieces that he has.
5. Are the Mavs a healthy Dirk Nowitzki away from contention? If yes, how so? If not, where do you go from here?
It really depends on the record once they get him back. He's scheduled for a December 20th return, but the team then plays San Antonio twice, the Heat, the Nuggets, OKC, and Memphis, which is a brutal welcome back tour. If they are treading .500 I think the team has a shot at the playoffs because Dirk's game is predicated on high usage with few turnovers (which is a huge part of the team's problem at the moment) and he gets guys open looks simply by being such a threat to score.
I expect Brand, Kaman, and Mayo to benefit from playing with him immensely. If they aren't anywhere near .500 they have some soul searching to do. Next season only Dirk and Marion are under contract (though for over $30 million between them). Do they admit defeat and tank? Personally, I wouldn't be opposed because I'm tired of hoping and praying about guys selected in the late 20's of the draft. It would be much more fun to be irrationally angry at a top 10 pick than a guy the team clearly gambled on. We'll see. Cuban and Nelson are smart men, though they've been on the wrong side of every major gamble the team has taken (letting Nash walk, labeling Roddy Beaubois as un-tradable, letting Tyson Chandler walk, etc). Whatever they do, I can assure you it won't be boring!
Keys to the Game.
Bull Moose Party: It remains obvious to everyone on the planet other than Lawrence Frank that Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond are a match made in heaven, in spite of Drummond's rookie mistakes. Together, they are the most productive front court the Pistons have had in years, and with some development, there's potential for them to be the best ever. Yeah, I went there. Let's do it, Larry. Caution to the wind, already.
Hold on to the ball: Memphis was beatable last night, but the Pistons committed too many turnovers - many of them unforced. Don't force, don't rush, and secure the ball.
Finish the play, get in transition: The Mavs are not a young team, and they should be vulnerable on the break. But the break can't start until the offensive play ends. So, finish the play, clean the glass, and advance the ball.
Question of the game.
Andre Drummond will play __ minutes.