Tomorrow, the Mavericks will play their 41st game. No, that's not a joke...the season is basically half way over. Its been a fun one, at times, although lately it has felt more like a nightmare. However, now is not the time to panic, but rather, look back on what has been. In this report, Mavs Moneyball authors each gave their answers to several questions pertaining to the season to date. Look for the four more questions focused on the second half of the season to be posted Friday.
What has been the biggest surprise so far this season?
Bryan Gutierrez: Without a doubt, the biggest surprise has been the overall influence Tyson Chandler has made on the roster. The center has been injured over the past couple of years and that can make you forget the kind of player he is. He's done a tremendous job of anchoring the defense as that voice on the back-line to keep everyone in check. Quickly, he's emerged as a vocal and spiritual leader on the team and he's a fan favorite. Dirk Nowitzki is the MVP of the team but Chandler, with Jason Kidd, is the most important player on the team. Considering you were hopeful to get something of use out of Erick Dampier's contract, you can only be shocked in what you got in return.
LJRotter: Hands down, the biggest (and most pleasant) surprise for me has been the emergence of DeShawn Stevenson as a vital part of our offense. For one, I think it's amazing that the veterans of the team stepped up and insisted that he be added to the starting lineup. That speaks volumes to the professionalism and chemistry that's developed on this team. In addition, he has quietly emerged as one of the premier three-point shooting guards in the league and is forcing other teams to defend him more, leaving scoring opportunities open for our other guys. During the game in Indiana, Bob Ortegal made a comment about how these days, when Threevenson shoots, you pretty much just expect it to go in. While there's no telling whether this is some sort of streaky phenomenon or he's just found his shot and will maintain it, I will continue to feel confident when the ball is placed in his hands beyond the arc.
Tom: Brian Cardinal. He has done well since Dirk has gotten injured, provided some much needed energy for the 2nd unit. He does the dirty work for the Mavs, and earned his nickname of "The Janitor".
What has been the biggest disappointment so far this season?
BG: The easy answer is Brendan Haywood but I think that isn't the case. Haywood is still serviceable and was being compared to a semi-aloof Dampier and now being compared to an All-Star caliber center in Chandler. To me, the biggest disappointment has been in Jason Terry. While I can't imagine a player who is consistently idle in three quarters only to arrive in the 4th and dominant the game. If Terry is on the roster, the Mavericks need a consistent Jet to make a deep run. He can no longer go for 24 points in one game and follow that up with an 8-point outing.
LJ: Brendan Haywood. Well, he's part of it. The acquisition of Tyson Chandler was supposed to make our paint impenetrable. What Chandler lacks in width, Haywood could compensate for and what Haywood lacks in enthusiasm, Chandler more than has it covered. And yet, despite being paid a boatload of money, Haywood has all but given up on caring. His infamous words, "I just work here", seem to ring truer than ever, and he couldn't have picked a worse season to lose interest. If he were playing at the top of his game, as his starting counterpart seems to be, the Mavericks would have two seven-footers unafraid to challenge inside and they would be essentially unstoppable. Sadly, Chandler seems to be shouldering the burden more than he should, and we're left with a huge contract moping on the bench. Don't even get me started on the free throws.
Tcat: For me, the big disappointment of the season is also the most frustrating thing: the lack of a killer instinct. It seems like over and over this year, the Mavericks have built early leads, gone on big runs, crushing teams with solid defense and relentless offense, to the point where it became easy to wonder if any team could deal with such dominance. However, once that lead was built, the team seems to coast until they are forced to once again build it back. The best example I can think of was back in December, when Dallas built their 29-4 lead over Utah. Nobody expected to continue dominating like that, but it how hard would it have been to simply maintain a large lead like that for the rest of the game? Instead, the Mavericks slowly let the Jazz back into the game, until they tied it in the 4th. Though the Mavericks won, it’s easy to think that it could have been much, much easier. Of course, killer instinct has been a problem for the Maverick teams the past few years, so maybe I was just gullible enough to expect something different, but the way the Mavericks have got their leads has seemed even more assertive, and the way they’ve given them up has seemed even more sad than ever before.
Which game is your favorite of the season so far?
DOH: Sweeping the Heat is nothing new; the Mavericks have done that for years, so that's not it. Since the Mavs don't do blowouts either, my favorite is the come-from-behind win in SA, purely from a "just ask their fans, they may've puked and cried at the same time" standpoint, so to speak.
BG: I was torn between two games and I almost went with the Boston Celtics game. That was the first REAL big home game of the year and it lived up to the hype with an exciting finish. I decided though to go with the road game against the Sacramento Kings. Dallas was in the midst of their winning streak and ran into a team that couldn't miss a shot early in the game as Sacramento shot 60% from the field and 67% from beyond the arc in the first quarter. The Kings built a double-digit lead and the Mavericks eventually chipped away but the Kings held tough. Sacramento had a 99-90 lead with just a few minutes left but Dallas played amazing basketball on both sides of the floor and finished the game on a 15-4 run. It was a tough and gritty win.
LJ: Ah, well my favorite game was the victory over the Heat in Miami, for obvious reasons. I was sitting at the damn scorer's table, so I got to witness the epic fail that was LeBron from mere feet away. It wasn't a runaway game, either, it was a hard-fought nail-biter that came down to the very end. While I generally prefer easy victories, the closeness is what made this one so satisfying. The Heat started the season slowly, but they've steadily turned into the team everyone feared, so it's nice that the Mavericks were able to sweep them in style.
Give one word that best describes the season so far, and why you picked it.
BG: Eventful. There have been so many storylines that you would think the season could double as a soap opera. Will Roddy Ever Come Back? Why are They Being Quiet About Dirk? Where Did All of Carlisle's Hair Go? The team was rolling and looked primed to make a championship run and now, they look like they're holding on for dear life...injuries can do that. They're a team that's lost their mojo and have to do something to bring it back. It's pretty rare to see a team go from elite to crud-tastic within a matter of weeks. The way things are going, things will have to change. That means there will be more events so the word will hold up.
DOH: MVP. It's obvious who is targeted by that (hint 1: a foreigner) and when he plays, it's obvious why (hint 2: no, he's not a puerto rican). The scary part is when he doesn't play (hint3: his French is pretty poor) it becomes even more obvious. It's a curse and a blessing at the same time. Obviously. We've seen both sides now, and the effects have been pretty drastic (hint 4: It's not Roddy, try again).
Tom: Ambiguous. It has looked very good with all the team healthy, but look like a lottery team with out Dirk and Caron Butler. Until the season ends, I really can't judge it.