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How the Other Side Thinks; Tim MacMahon: Dirk Over KG

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A Daily Babble Production

When he isn't at the epicenter of blogging crises in the locker room, Tim MacMahon spends his time doing a fantastic job of blogging the Mavericks for the SportsDay at the Dallas Morning News.  He updates with regularity of awe-striking proportions, and he does an entertaining job to boot.  With the Celtics heading in to Big D looking for a sweep of the Texas trio tonight -- and the Mavs in an odd state of flux of their own -- Tim generously took some time to chat about Jerry Stackhouse, J-Kidd and all else Mavs-related.  Though he was unable to comment on the aforementioned blog crisis in Dallas due to the fact that it is still in the midst of being dealt with by his employer and the NBA, Tim provided thorough and enjoyable answers, and somehow, in the midst of all this, he managed to offer a vote for Dirk Nowitzki over our beloved Kevin Garnett.  Though the latter part of today's Daily Babble is dedicated to rebutting Tim on this point, the man might have recovered to become my favorite out-of-town blogger with his endorsement of a certain SW-sponsored nickname...

SW:  Give us a feel for the Mavericks this year.  What have been the top three themes or moments of the season thus far, and where do you think the Mavericks will end up in the Western Conference?  Feel free to provide projections of the playoffs if that's helpful.

TM:  The Mavs started out in Regular Season Doesn't Matter Mode after becoming the biggest playoff failures in major pro sports history last season. (There is statistical evidence to back up that claim.) Then they went into Uh-Oh, We're Not Good Enough To Win It All Mode, which resulted in the Jason Kidd trade. They're now realizing that the regular season does indeed matter because their chances to win a championship without homecourt advantage are slim. Considering that they've yet to beat a winning team since the Kidd trade, I can't see the Mavs getting homecourt advantage for more than the first round, if that.

SW:  It seems that the latest big hit in Big D has been the insertion of Jerry Stackhouse into the starting lineup.  Much has been made of the fact that the Mavs are 5-0 (with an average margin of victory of nearly 24 points per game) since Avery Johnson made the lineup change, and Stackhouse has played well in those games.  That said, it seems worth noting that the five games have come against New Jersey, New York, Charlotte, Indiana and Miami.  Meanwhile, when the Mavs lost four of five prior to the change, the four losses came to the Spurs, Lakers, Jazz and Rockets -- four of the West's top teams -- with Dirk Nowitzki suspended for the Rockets game, to boot.  Is the Mavs' recent hot streak is due to the lineup change and the team coming together, or is it simply a natural matter of the schedule becoming more favorable?

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TM:  Well, so much for that hot streak, huh? The Mavs' winning streak ended after they played one of their worst halves of the season against the Lakers and couldn't complete an amazing comeback. The streak was the result of a favorable stretch of the schedule, but this is a better team with Stackhouse in the starting lineup. The Mavs had tried a long list of guys as the starting shooting guard over the last two seasons. Stack is the only one who gives them scoring ability, toughness and the size to eliminate matchup problems that come with playing smallball.

SW:  Speaking of notable personnel moves, the buzz around the Mavs for most of February was about the re-acquisition of Jason Kidd at point guard.  At the time, I wrote a piece expressing my concern about the Mavs' sacrificing DeSagana Diop, who made a tremendous difference defensively in limited minutes, as the Mavs were nearly five points per 100 possessions better defensively with him on the floor.  It seemed that while everyone else in the West (with the Spurs, Lakers and Suns as prime examples) was getting bigger, the Mavs got smaller.  What is your impression of Kidd's second stint in Dallas thus far?  How do you see the results of the trade ultimately playing out?  Is this team better for the immediate future as a result of the deal?  Are the Mavs ready to be a better playoff team than they were a year ago?

TM:  Well, the Mavs can't really be a worse playoff team than they were a year ago, right? I liked the Kidd trade and lobbied for it. I thought he'd provide the mental toughness and leadership that the Mavs were missing. I also thought Kidd, Dirk Nowitzki and Josh Howard were a championship-caliber trio. Dirk has been phenomenal since (and perhaps in part because of) the trade. But the Mavs have been a disappointment, going 0-6 against West playoff contenders. You make good points about Diop, but you can't really say that the Mavs miss what Diop did for them, because he was in Avery Johnson's doghouse a lot, including the month before the trade. His defensive presence didn't mean anything when he was watching from the bench.  That doesn't mean Avery was right to be down on Diop.

SW:  In that same vein, how much can Erick Dampier be counted on to play consistent basketball in the pivot for the stretch run?  What else will the Mavs be able to do to survive on the interior in the West?

TM:  The Mavs really have no choice but to cross their fingers that Damp can give them 30-plus good minutes per night. Malik Allen, a 6-10, 255-pound jump shooter, is the primary backup at big man. The Mavs signed Jamaal Magloire to replace Diop, but he's glued to the bench and has looked a lot older than 29 in his limited minutes. The other option is to play small ball with Dirk or 6-8 Brandon Bass at center.

SW:  As you noted with the beginning of your Wild West feature, the Western Conference standings are capable of undergoing dramatic fluctuations on a day-to-day basis.  How important is homecourt advantage and seeding in general to this year's Mavs team?  Who, if anyone, would be an ideal first-round playoff match-up for this group?  What team should the Mavs want no part of?

TM:  I will pick the Mavs to win any series in which they have homecourt advantage, and I won't pick them in any series in which they don't have homecourt advantage. They have one of the biggest home road differentials in the league:  29-5 at the AAC and 15-19 away from home.

SW:  What is the feeling about the Little General around town these days?  How would you assess the job he has done with the team this season?

TM:  Mark Cuban still loves his coach, and that's really all that matters. A lot of fans aren't real happy with Avery, as evidenced by His critics consider him a micromanaging control freak who is incapable/unwilling to admit a mistake. Benching Kidd for the final 34 seconds in San Antonio - the first real crunch-time since the trade – and justifying it afterward enhanced that perception. I tend to side with the critics on this one, although I respect Avery's overall body of work and recognize that it takes a lot of coaching smarts to have a 187-63 career record, no matter how much talent you inherit.

SW:  Brutal honesty: Does Dirk Nowitzki have what it takes to be the best player on a championship team?  Why?

TM:  Best player?  Yes. Leader?  Probably not after what happened in the Mavs' last two playoff series. That's one of the primary reasons why I thought the Kidd deal was a wise move.

SW:  At the outset of this season, I wondered if the Mavs would be the dark horse NBA team to qualify for the 2006 Indianapolis Colts-St. Louis Cardinals phenomenon.  Both of those teams had spent most of the last several years exerting regular season dominance over their divisions and leagues but had failed to get the formula right in the postseason on multiple occasions.  In 2006, both teams had seemingly far less successful seasons but became playoff wrecking balls on their way to championships.  Frankly, I don't have any scientific evidence to back up my suspicions about the Mavs; this is purely a hunch.  Is there anything to that hunch of mine?  Could you see the Mavs finally putting it all together for two months come playoff time this season?  Can this team win a championship as currently constructed?  Why?

TM:  My confidence in the Mavs' championship chances for this season take a hit with every loss to a winning team. I don't care how many of the games were closel 0-6 since the All-Star break/Kidd trade is an ugly, ugly trend.  That's why the game against the Celtics is as close to a must-win as an NBA team can get in March.

SW:  What will be the single most important factor in the Mavs' success or failure this postseason?

TM:  Homecourt advantage, and time is running out on that possibility. 

SW:  Time to get the fan bases riled up: If we mixed up all the players from the Celts and Mavs and named you and I as two captains to re-pick squads (irrespective of salaries) out of that pool of players, how would the top ten picks play out?

TM:  Since these teams both consider themselves championship contenders, I'm basing this list on a three-year window.

1. Dirk Nowitzki
2. Kevin Garnett (see the explanatory column for selections one and two here)
3. Paul Pierce
4. Jason Kidd
5. Ray Allen
6. Josh Howard
7. Rajon Rondo
8. Sam Cassell
9. Jason Terry
10. Erick Dampier

SW:  One more Celts question:  I've heard you're a big booster of the Sizable Baby, Glen Davis.  I've been struggling all season to get some popular support going for some of my 'alternate' nicknames for the Baby -- Infuriated Infant, Terrifying Toddler, Nasty Newborn and my personal favorite, Pugnacious Papoose.  Got any love for any of those monikers?  Or should I just give it up and stick to nickname-free writing?

TM:  I'm a huge fan of cheesy nicknames and strongly encourage Celtics fans to hop on the Pugnacious Papoose Caboose.  [SW: In the words, er, word, of Mike Breen, "Bang!"]

SW:  Got a score prediction for tonight's game?

TM:  Mavs 94, Celtics 91. Dirk manages to block out Rondo on the key possession this time, preventing the Celtics from escaping the Texas Triangle with a sweep.

Pugnacious Papoose Caboose!!!  Long live Tim!  And here's hoping his predicting skills aren't as good as his taste in nicknames.