Rebecca Lawson of Mavs Moneyball stopped by to answer a few questions before tonight's 8 pm ET tip-off at Philips Arena:
Daniel Christian: The Mavericks have been retooling their roster ever since 2011 to prolong Dirk's championship window as long as possible. This offseason, they added Deron Williams, Javale McGee and Wesley Matthews, and drafted Justin Anderson. How have those additions helped/ hurt the team this year?
Rebecca Lawson: Going into this season, I (and most Mavs fans) were cautiously optimistic despite most national folks picking the Mavs to finish near the bottom of the West. Much of whether the Mavs could do well this season depended on Wes Matthews recovering from his Achilles tear, and Deron Williams at least partly returning to his former self.
So far (fingers crossed!) everything's coming up Mavs in those respects. The Mavericks have an amazing training staff, and have done a wonderful job managing minutes, keeping Deron healthy, and getting Wes back to form. Matthews has already become a fan favorite, and we're all incredibly pleased with what he brings to this team. And Williams playing well, which he has been, is key to the Mavericks' success this season.
JaVale McGee has been a nice contributor in limited minutes (he was also working his way back from injury). He adds the athleticism that Zaza Pachulia (who has been wonderful in his own right, more on that below) can't bring. Justin Anderson hasn't gotten a lot of minutes, but still has a way to go to earn them. Unfortunately for him, Carlisle is a bit stingy in giving minutes to rookies. I'd like to see him used a bit more to see what he can handle, but the Mavs are in win-now mode, and he'll get playing time when they can afford it.
DC: I mentioned trying to prolong the window. The Mavs are obviously a tier or two away from seriously contending, but they'll most likely be in the playoffs, and at this point in Dirk's career, that's probably enough. But what is this team's ceiling and what do you think their expectations are?
RL: As you implied with the question, the goal has always been to just field as competitive of a roster as possible as long as Dirk is playing. With that in mind, expectations are what they've always been since 2011: make the playoffs and go from there. With the season they've had, assuming no major/lengthy injuries, the Mavs will almost certainly make the playoffs. (They're currently sitting in 6th in the West.) Whether they make it past the first round, though, largely depends on seeding. If they face the Clippers, for example, they have a chance. Against the Warriors or Spurs? Lol nope.
DC: I must ask: How has Zaza Pachulia been for the Mavericks? He's an old Hawks fan favorite and I'm sure everyone at Peachtree Hoops (or maybe just me, who knows?) would love an update on Zaza.
RL: Zaza Pachulia has been an absolute delight in Dallas, and you could even make an argument that he's the first half MVP. He notches double-doubles regularly (a respectable 21 as of last night), and is fourth in the league in total rebounds. Not bad for a DeAndre Jordan consolation prize! By all accounts, he's a great guy in the locker room who contributes a lot to the great chemistry this year's Mavs have. He does create some lineup concerns with Parsons especially (Tim Cato wrote about that recently), but those have been alleviated a bit with McGee able to play more these days and the recent emergence of Salah Mejri, the 29 year old Tunisian rookie.
Basically, though, he's far out-performed most expectations. The Mavs sorely needed to replace the defense, and especially rebounding, that they lost in Tyson Chandler from last year, and Zaza has been up to that task.
DC: Lastly, how do you think the Mavericks match-up with the Hawks? Are there any particular things to watch out for? Care to give a prediction for tonight's game?
RL: Both teams are about equal: the Mavericks come out a little better offensively and Atlanta comes out a little better defensively. Wes Matthews is a potential positive for Dallas over Kent Bazemore. Chandler Parsons, in theory, has a game that could give Kyle Korver trouble on both ends. Paul Millsap against Dirk is a ridiculous match-up that should yield a ton of offensive points on both sides of the court. The key to this game will probably be how the Mavs, and J.J. Barea in particular, handle Dennis Schroder.
All that said, the Mavs are on the second night of a back to back, and Rick Carlisle isn't shy this season about resting his guys, so it's possible a couple of them (Parsons or McGee in particular) could sit. Dirk did not play last night so that he could play tonight. I'll give Atlanta the edge, mostly by virtue of Dallas having to travel along with being on the second night of a back to back.