The Mavericks play the Houston Rockets on ESPN on Wednesday night. Before the game, ESPN made analyst Chris Broussard available to us for a brief interview. Here's what we talked about, regarding the Mavericks' surprising season, why Dirk Nowitzki is different than Kobe Bryant,
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Mavs Moneyball: The question on everyone's mind regarding the Mavericks is why they're suddenly on a four-game winning streak after losing two starters. Do you have any clues about their recent success?
Chris Broussard: Obviously, J.J. Barea has really stepped it up, playing tremendously of late. No one could have foreseen this, and honestly, I think this is a lot of what has been happening to the Mavericks all year. You know in Rick Carlisle, they have one of the best coaches in the league, and if you look at their season, you know they've had injuries, whether it's Wesley Matthews, Chandler Parsons, now Deron Williams. Their best players outside of Dirk Nowitzki have all gone down at some point, and they've had guys step up.
Earlier in the season, it was Zaza Pachulia. Now it's J.J. Barea. You've had players you don't expect much from step up and kind of play above their heads. And credit to them. The schedule's been kind, Denver's not very good, the Knicks aren't very good, Detroit, you know, they're OK, they're mediocre. In Minnesota, despite what they did last night (beating the Warriors), they're a young team, talented, but certainly capable of being beaten, and should be beaten when they're facing a playoff team. I think that that's really all that goes into why the Mavericks have played much better than people expected, not only lately, but really this entire season.
MMB: Yeah, that's actually the next question I wanted to go into. A lot of people saw the Mavericks around 30 wins or so. Obviously they're still in a tough situation fighting for the playoffs, but they're doing better than most people thought. How surprised have you been, even as players have stepped up like you said, how surprised are you that they're in this situation now?
Broussard: Rick Carlisle, I have total respect for him as a coach. I'm not shocked. They're playing very well, they're not blowing the roof off of the place, but it's not a situation that shocks me. What has been the most surprising thing for me on this Mavericks team is the play of Dirk Nowitzki. At his age, and this stage of his career, for him to be averaging 18 points and leading a playoff team, or what looks like it's going to be a playoff team, is incredible. I'm really impressed.
It's one thing to go out and put up numbers. Kobe, we know he's not playing anywhere near his peak level, but he's still capable putting up decent numbers in terms of points per games. Not really the shooting numbers, but he can't put up those numbers on a team that's going to the playoffs. He can't be the leading scorer or best player on a playoff team anymore. And Dirk Nowitzki's basically doing that. That's really what surprised me about the Mavericks more than anything, and there's a lot of surprises, like I mentioned. Yeah, I think Dirk has really been a great player this year, and that's something that's really stunning.
MMB: Yeah, that's something around Dallas we're trying not to take advantage of. I saw that Dirk follows you on Twitter -- how is your relationship with him?
Broussard: I don't have that much of a relationship with him -- I did a story on him years ago, I can't even remember what the year was, for ESPN the Magazine, and I spent a long time with him, had a good time with him. I like him a lot. But I don't see him a lot. We have a good relationship, a cordial relationship, but nothing really of substance to speak of.
MMB: Dirk's said he's definitely playing one more year. He's going to pick his player option. You're obviously well informed around the league -- what direction to you see the Mavericks trying to take, what options do they have available to them as they try to put an even better team around Dirk for next year?
Broussard: Knowing Mark Cuban, he's going to try to swing towards the fences and go after Kevin Durant. I don't think he'll get him. Then there's the talk around Dwight Howard, and I'd be very careful, and I think the Mavericks will (be careful). Dwight Howard is not been playing like max player, it's just as simple as that, especially of late. It's not all on him -- some of it is the way they use him or misuse him, but the fact is, he's not putting up numbers that are impressive for him at this point. So I'm not saying the Mavericks shouldn't have any interest, but the price tag should be very, very light for them to want to go after Dwight. After that, there's Al Horford, there's Hassan Whiteside, there's Rajon Rondo. There's no other real super-duper stars other than Kevin Durant. I think Hassan Whiteside could certainly help a team. I think he's very, very, very promising. But outside of that, it's kind of more very good players but not great players available once you get past Kevin Durant and then Whiteside.
You have to be careful. A lot of teams are going to have money, but you have to be careful not to overspend just to add to your payroll. You have to make sure you don't put yourself in a hole going forward if you're only a mediocre team, which is basically what the Mavericks are.
MMB: I would agree, and going back to Dwight, I definitely think a max contract, there's obviously concerns about that. Do you feel like there's teams out there that might offer him the max, because it sounds like Dallas is interested if the price falls.
Broussard: It only takes one, and as I said, every summer, teams overpay. Was Tristan Thompson worth $82 million over five years? I say no. Was Wesley (Matthews) worth $70 million, and he got it from Dallas. No! Chandler Parsons isn't worth the max when he was getting it. So you see guys overpaid year in and year out. It only takes one antsy open to get enamored with the Dwight Howard name and what he used to be and overpay him and give him the max just to get him in the building. But it's not going to be as much interest as Dwight thinks.
I think there will be some interest but the combination of the poor play and the poor production and the fact that the directly the league is going in, I think he should even consider staying and opting in, because he could up his value if he has a good year next year. I'm not saying he will, but I'm just saying it's something you need to consider considering the way he's been playing this season.
MMB: Alright, what's your prediction for tonight's game between the Mavericks and Rockets on ESPN, and what's your prediction for the Western Conference playoffs -- will the Mavericks get in?
Broussard: I think the Mavericks will get in and I think Houston will get in. I'm leaving Utah out. I may be wrong, but Houston's schedule is easy. They've got Sacramento, a couple losing teams. Tonight is their toughest game remaining. I'm going to pick Houston tonight, but J.J. Barea's been playing well and you have to give the Mavericks a chance, Rick Carlisle's been doing a great job.
MMB: I've got one more question for you: people on the internet love when you say "sources", because it kind of sounds like "sauces." I don't know if you've seen that at all?
Broussard: I've seen that. I didn't know I say it like sauces, but people have pointed it out to me.
MMB: It's all in good fun. Do you have a favorite sauce, are you a barbeque guy, or maybe hot sauce?
Broussard: I love a good barbeque sauce, but I think the mustard I need on my sandwiches is honey mustard. Honey mustard's one of my favorite sauces. A chicken sandwich, or Italian sausage, or something. I like myself some honey mustard.
MMB: That's a very good answer. Thanks Chris!