First things first: if you haven't read part one of this Mid-Season Report, go do so. It's well worth your time.
As for the Mavericks, there's plenty of uncertainty swirling around them. An elite team like the Bulls know about where they'll stand at the end of the year, and the bottom feeding Bobcats are doing their worst to finish last. The Mavericks, though, have so many different places they could end up. Even a playoff berth is not a guarantee at this juncture (although I'm extremely confident that's not even going to be an issue with ten games to play).
So with that said, the staff here isn't going to try to predict what the team is going to do. Rather, here's some general answers about the Mavericks as a team as they go forth into the unknown.
5. What are you most excited about seeing headed into the second half of the season?
Andy: Whether the Mavs can get anything approaching consistency. Now that Dirk is back playing well, the hierarchy behind him is drawn in even sharper relief. Terry and Vince alternate success and being non-factors. Lamar seldom adds enough. The early contribution of the centers on the offensive end has largely gone by the wayside. The Mavs keep winning, and have earned enough of a grace period to find a replicable model for their offense, game after game. But if they don't, they won't.
Richard: I am most excited about seeing how tight our defense can get. It's been a B-Team headline since the beginning of the season, behind Dirk's down-and-up performance, Odom's disappearance and the handful of hopeful players on the roster. Even Carter has shown that he can buy in to the defensive philosophy Carlisle is selling. We're getting blocks and steals everywhere. I'm on the edge of my seat when we're on the defensive end. I am in love with the backwards identity and am curious to see if we can sustain it.Tom: I am excited about seeing less, and hopefully no, injuries headed into the second half of the season. With no injuries, save for West, Dallas can prove that every win is by depth and not by luck or non calls.
Josh: That the best is most likely to come. Even after recovering from the horrible first week of the season, it still feels like Dallas isn’t playing its best basketball. The Mavericks have recovered thanks to a surprisingly fantastic defense but the offense is still treading water. Jason Kidd hasn’t shot well, Jason Terry and Dirk Nowitzki have been inconsistent, Lamar Odom has been dead. The Mavs still look like a contender despite this. Imagine if those things turn around? Yeah, I’m excited.
6. Biggest strength of the Mavericks headed forwards?
Richard: I suppose I forecast this already, but I'll put some more flesh on it. The Mavs biggest strength is still the same as it was last year, mainly because of the leadership, and that is addition by subtraction. Addition to the team by subtraction of the self. Nobody's looking like a defensive phenom individually, but as a team the Dallas Mavericks are in the top-tier of every defensive category.
Tom: The biggest strength of the Mavericks for the second part of the season is the depth at the front court. Shawn Marion is having stats not seen since Phoenix and can guard anyone to the point of frustration. Dirk has greatly improved after he took a few games off, and is dominating akin to the 2011 Playoffs. Brendan Haywood may not be the best center, but 22 out of 30 teams would kill to have his rebounding and blocking abilities. The bench also can not be forgotten. Brandan Wright is very athletic, and brings jams almost every game he plays. Ian plays good enough to outshine other teams' secondary center. Almost no team can claim such a front court.
Josh: Like I said earlier, surprisingly the defense. Tyson Chandler might be gone, but the Mavericks are still tops in the league at opponents field goal percentage. Dallas has switched styles a bit, being more aggressive and attacking with its guards to force turnovers. It’s lasted this long, with different players in and out of the lineup so it’s safe to say this defense should be here to stay.
7. Biggest weakness of the Mavericks headed forwards?
Andy: Defense. It's been really good,but all the centers have regressed defensively since the season started and Delonte's out at least a month, which means the Mavs' only above average defenders are Marion and Odom. The other guys are super smart, but they don't have the athleticism or the skills. The defense has been great. But I don't think I'm crazy to think that a team which doesn't have a starting center can't be depended upon, on that end.
Richard: I'm going to say the Mavericks' biggest weakness is the three point line on both ends. Our failures offensively, in that regard, are leading to a lot of long rebounds and fast break points. And we've been torched by too many geriatric point guards from the arc to ignore the fact that we can't seem to close out on the long ball.
Tom: The biggest weakness of the Mavericks headed forward is the amount of turnovers. The turnover ration is high for a team that is supposed to contend for the title. For the Mavs to be seen as the best to repeat, the turnovers have to stop of at least dramatically decrease.
Josh: In general terms, it’s the offense compared if you compare it to the great defense that’s been played. But it’s probably the rebounding. Chandler’s absence might not have hurt the defense overall, but it’s hurting the team in closing out possessions. After a good start, the Mavericks have struggled on the boards to now where they’re on average getting outrebounded by the opponent every night. The margin (0.3) is slim, but for a contending team, it’s a worrying number. Brendan Haywood has done his part, but the rebounding has really fallen off because Ian Mahinmi and Brandan Wright haven’t done particularly well. Combine that with Dirk’s steady rebounding decline and Jason Kidd being in and out of the lineup, and well, there it is.
8. Most important factor for the Mavericks to have a successful season?
Andy: They need to stay healthy.
Richard: I like the Mavericks' level of commitment. Thankfully, I think they have enough buy-in from everyone else to make Lamar Odom a non-factor. (Doesn't it kill you to think what it could be like if that weren't the case?) The most important thing I can see going forward is manageing the guard rotations. Kidd is only getting older and we're going to have to rely on West, Beaubois and guard-forward Carter to share the load. It's as tantalizing as it is nerve-racking.
Tom: The most important factor for the Mavericks to have a successful second half of the season and playoffs would be Dirk staying healthy. While Dirk out during the regular season could be weathered, the Mavericks would be blown over without a go-to guy like Dirk.
Josh: All be told, it has to be to stay healthy. Dallas has placed itself in position for a top-four seed with Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, Delonte West, Rodrigue Beaubois and Lamar Odom all missing games. Once the team gets its top eight guys back, Dallas could challenge for the second overall seed in the West. Other than that, doesn’t it have to be Odom popping up out of the casket and showing us that he’s actual good at basketball?