After a somewhat routine loss in Oklahoma City, the Golden State Warriors will be in Dallas tonight to face the Mavericks at 5:30 p.m. PST on CSN Bay Area. To help us preview the game, we've gotten some insight from SB Nation's Mavs Moneyball on a somewhat erratic start for the Mavs, a couple of former Warriors battling for playing time, and what the absence of Dirk Nowitzki means for the team.
And tonight's game will be an interesting test for them: although the Mavs have been one of the top offenses in the Western Conference despite the absence of Dirk Nowitzki, they have one glaring weakness that the Warriors might be able to exploit in order to get a win on the road.
To gain a little bit more insight on the Mavs beyond the statistics, I had an e-conversation with Kirk Henderson of SB Nation's Mavs Moneyball. Click here to check out his questions for me.
Q&A with Mavs Moneyball
1. First, the Mavs have both Troy Murphy and Brandan Wright on their roster. Give us an update on how those two former Warriors draft picks are doing.
Kirk Henderson: Overall, both are giving Dallas what they were signed for; Wright, for his energy, length, and athleticism, Murphy for his veteran presence and ability to rebound.
As of late, Murphy has been getting much more playing time than Wright and it's driving the Mavs fan base crazy. However, Murphy is a better fit within the offense since he has the ability to hit from outside (he hasn't found his shot yet, but that might just take time).
Wright is the biggest story as Carlisle has put him in a position to do very well. He's limited long term - he's just not strong enough to rebound and defend consistently - but he shoots a high percentage, challenges shots very well, and makes the right play in the offense. I suspect he'll draw a lot of free agent attention in the off season. I am delighted his career has gotten on track again.
2. If one were to try to judge how good the Mavs are simply by looking at their schedule thus far, it would be really hard to know what to think of them: they've pulled off a couple of unexpected wins - to the extent that beating the Lakers on opening night might've been unexpected - and then suffered a couple of blowouts while also blowing out a few opponents. Which game do you think was most representative of what this team is capable of this season?
KH: This is really an excellent question. I am the resident Mav Moneyball Eeyore in that I think this team is not very good.
They have some interesting pieces and coach Rick Carlisle makes them all much better, but when you boil it all away, they have some aging veterans with declining skills and young players who do not have the highest of ceilings. I'd have to go with the recent victory in Cleveland: they won by 8 against a struggling team with a weak bench, but in order to do so they had to shoot 52% to Cleveland's 37%.
Dallas got FOUR rebounds in the second quarter. They got beat on the offensive glass and they turned the ball over a lot. Without Dirk, the offense has huge stretches where it simply cannot generate buckets. Dirk's return helps that a lot, but their defensive rebounding and ball control issues might not go away. It really could be a long season.
Then again I could be dead wrong because Dirk papers over so many mistakes and elevates the play of everyone around him.
3. Obviously, playing without Nowitzki was expected to be a major challenge for the Mavs this season. How do you think the team has adjusted to his absence? Who has stepped up most?
KH: Against teams with less talent or injured players they've been great. Against teams with strong front courts (Utah, New York, the immortal Bobcats) they get bullied. Carlisle has tried just about every combination at his disposal to see if something sticks. Thus far, not much has. The schedule has been a big factor in the current win-loss record.
O.J. Mayo has stepped up the most. I think all Dallas fans hoped he would give the team something to cheer for, but his outside shot has been amazing. While he's not been as impressive from midrange, the threat of his three point shot has forced defenses to adjust to him, which is pretty impressive for a guy with 11 games on his new team. Collison has also been impressive. Dallas goes as he does, so when he's feeling right and forcing the issue on offense, Dallas looks great. When he gets tentative or doesn't probe the lane, things get stagnant in a hurry.
4. Another "absence" for the Mavs this year is Jason Terry - seeing him in a Celtics uniform is weird even to me after so many years in Dallas. How significant has his departure been so far this season?
KH: Less than I would have thought. His midrange game off the dribble, particularly near the baseline, was part of the Dallas bread and butter. But since the offense is without Dirk and is incorporating so many fresh faces, the transition hasn't been as painful as I might have thought. All of Dallas' problems at this point (rebounding, turnovers) are things he wasn't going to help much with.
We miss him as an idea much more than a player. He was a symbol of confidence and I will admit it's just not the same seeing Vince Carter sub in as a 6th man over Terry. Vince has been great (really great, actually) but he's jovial and friendly; the trash talk and such from Terry is definitely missed.
5. A quick look at the statistics shows that the Mavs have been a really poor rebounding team this season while the Warriors have been much improved in that aspect of the game. If there is one most significant key to the Warriors beating the Mavs, would you say outrebounding them is it?
KH: Probably. But there's really three keys to beating the Mavs right now: rebounding, forcing turnovers, and shutting down penetration into the lane which forces them to take outside shots.
When those outside shots don't fall, the offense falls apart. The rebounding is big though just because in most of their losses, the Mavs have given up absurd numbers of offensive rebounds. Carlisle has actually started playing second round rookie Bernard James more at center over Wright, which has cleaned up this problem somewhat, but it seems to happen in waves (against the Bobcats the Mavs gave up 12 offensive boards in the 4th quarter and overtime) and Dallas can't stop it.
Turnovers have sporadically been a problem for Dallas as well; bad decision begets bad decision. Closing off access to Darren Collison to the paint has been big. Elton Brand's offensive game has gone the way of the dodo so there's often no high post outlet for the Collison PnR. When this happens the offense bogs down because Mayo is not very good at getting to the basket. That leaves Vince Carter as the only Maverick willing to hunt for his shot and the results aren't great because Carter isn't that guy anymore.
For Dallas, the offensive slow down is a chain reaction that they have a hard time getting back on track once it happens.
For more on this game and Kirk's questions for me, check out Mavs Moneyball.