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Bold Offseason Predictions #3: The Mavs' Crunch-Time Lineup Will Be....

The Dallas Mavericks have spent the offseason amassing starters, even if non All-Star starters, even if many of them, for complicated reasons have played back up roles in the most recent season. I doubt anyone would seriously argue that Kaman, Brand, Collison, Dirk, Marion, Mayo at least are NBA starter caliber players, with West and Carter not too far behind.

They'll only have 5 of those at a time, of course. And, moreover, anyone who has watched the Mavericks for any length of time knows that it doesn't really matter who starts. Carlisle likes to tinker with starting lineups, tossing in Carters and Beauboises as casually as he once threw in DeSteves and JJs. But one thing the man likes to get set is his finishing lineup. His crunch time lineup.

For the last two years, there have been some really obvious choices there. But now, at least two of his crunch timers (Kidd, Terry) are gone, and one of them (the center position) hasn't been set since TChan left.So, this year, they'll be auditioning three spots.

Who's it going to be? I'll tell you.

Here's my prediction: Darren Colllison, OJ Mayo, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki, Elton Brand.

Why? Because it's the best one. But here's some things you should know.

Dirk, Marion and probably Mayo are no-brainers. Yes, there was a time when Carlisle was loathe to put Marion in at end of games, looking for someone with a little more scoring punch in addition to defense. Those days are past. I don't know if it's how valuable his defense has proved to be, which is of course true, or the fact that the Mavericks no longer have two-way players whose defense can sniff Marion's (like Caron Butler's sometimes inspired play two ears ago), but obviously he's in.

But there is some uncertainty here, of course. The fact that the Mavs are in the hunt for Joel Przybilla (who was supposed to have decided by now) may be no more than a desire for insurance, especially with two creaky old guys out there, but very probably tells you that they don't feel too comfortable with Brand at center.

Second, the fact that Darren Collison is not much of a passing PG may in fact disqualify him from this role, and place Delonte West in it. There's no question that Collison is the starting PG, but the Mavs' game plan at the end of game has always been, and like will continue to be, get the ball to Dirk and Jet, or Jet-like objects; in this case, if he proves he can handle it, OJ Mayo.

It's true that Delonte West doesn't have better passing numbers than Collison and for all I know---I didn't get much of a chance to watch Collison these last couple years, except when he was torching the Mavericks--isn't so much the better passer. But he is a veteran, he does know his role. And Carlisle likes that. He likes that a lot.

But my guess is that Collison will instantly add a dimension to this team that it hasn't had, potentially a better, smarter J.J. Barea. And if so, Carlisle will not want to do without that dimension in the waning minutes, especially with the shots it will open for Dirk.

As for the finishing center, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Kaman in that position to start the year. He's a competent defender, a fine offensive center, and probably the Mavericks' best rebounder. Besides which, he and Dirk have a good relationship.

But Brand's superior defense--and remember, he played more games at C last year than PF--as well as his at least equal offensive game should win him that position before too long.