My questions in bold, Kirk's answers not in bold. If you couldn't figure that out, then there's something wrong with you. Check out MMB for my responses to his questions. Thanks to Kirk for taking the time to respond.

Oh, and I'm not as nice (or desperate) as the Suns so there will be no refunds for this Q&A. Enjoy it, because you won't get your money back.

The Mavericks have had seemingly five or six guys miss games with injury already. Who is actually healthy right now, and who is going to start?

I'll have to remember that "who is healthy?" is not the same as "who is good at basketball" because the latter question has a short answer list. Right now, everyone is healthy, assuming you consider Derek Fisher's rigor mortis to be healthy, other than Dirk who is not slated to come back to game action for a few more weeks. If it feels like everyone has been injured for Dallas, its much more that the team's been beaten so badly on a number of occasions that the rotation is all over the place.

What has happened to Darren Collison, and has he really been bad enough to warrant signing Derrick Fisher?

Let me present you with a stat that was accurate up until the Detroit game Saturday. Darren Collison was 14-of-40 from the floor with 12 assists and 10 turnovers in fourth quarters and overtime this season. He's been given the midrange shot, and anywhere from 10 to 15 feet away he's shooting 26%. Dallas is -25 per 48 minutes with him on the floor. I could keep going with the horrible stats. This is our lead guy, the one who orchestrates the offense. It's pretty painful to watch at times.

Of course, when he's good, he's pretty special. He's just not been good very often.

O.J. Mayo has gotten off to an unbelievable start. How much of that is his ridiculous 3-point shooting (52.7 percent) and how much of it is Mayo just excelling in his new role? Do you expect it to continue all year?

Giving him the green light to make plays and shoot the basketball without fear of getting pulled has done wonders for Mayo's confidence. The skill has been there, but it's so clear he hasn't been coached ever. With his three point shot he's taking whats there, and it's crazy that these shots are still available to him after nearly 20 games. The first part of the season he was roasting teams alive at a 60% clip from beyond the arc. However, the three point shooting is a bit of stat padding to a degree; he's shooting 37% on all mid-range twos. He's actually done MUCH better from anywhere inside the arc these last 10 games as for a while the only thing that was falling was the long ball.

I love him as a player right now, but it's so hard to tell what his ceiling is. At 25 he should be better than he is but, again, it's obvious in some areas he's lacked firm coaching. He doesn't come off screens well consistently. He really struggles as the primary ball handler in the pick and roll. He's prone to making passes a JV team could see coming. His defense is atrocious. But, he's trying and he's getting better. He didn't just show up and play well. He's worked at it and since he's the focal point right now, I am so so pleased with the results.

3) Is Vince Carter actually trying for Dallas? Or would you like to borrow a flamethrower?

We talked about this in the pre-season... I hated Vince last year because there was either GREAT Vince or "Dear God Make It Stop" Vince. No in between. My colleagues tell me I'm exaggerating, but I don't think I am. This year... he's... oh my God I can't believe I'm going to say this... he's been excellent. He's been the Mavs second best player. I'm sure you saw the Zach Lowe Grantland piece on him. If not, read it now.

He's been tasked to do the following: shoot open threes, post up smaller defenders and either score or pass out of the double team, and run the occasional pick and roll. He's also been asked to carry the offense as it's been terrible for stretches of games and while that part doesn't work out, the first three things he's been amazing. He's hitting threes (most of them wide open due to ball movement) at a steady clip, rebound hard, playing freaking defense. It's incredible. Can he keep it up? I think so. I really do. Ideally, he plays 20 minutes, shoots 4-8 times, and gives the starters some time to breathe. It's so strange to say all this. It's like being in a recovery program.

4) The Mavericks are sitting are 8-9 and are in 10th place in the West, but they are still without Dirk Nowitzki. What is the timetable on Nowitzki, and do you think his return will get them back into the playoff picture?

He *should* be back in game action around the 20th of this month. The problem then is the schedule: Miami, Memphis, San Antonio, OKC, Denver, San Antonio again, Washington, and Miami again. All those games in 12 days. Our fans don't like hearing this, but Dallas has played a cupcake schedule so far. That we're 8-9 is silly because there have been 3 games the guys simply couldn't close. I do not feel good about the team right now at all. But Dirk is Dirk and makes everyone better. He helps with their current turnover issues but not with rebounding and defense, particularly in the pick and roll. I'm really concerned. I see no value in being an 8 seed.

So yes, I think they get back in the picture. But I don't see them being able to do much.

5) Have any players (other than Mayo) really surprised you with they way they've played so far?

Beyond Vince Carter, yes, many of them have. First, Darren Collison has been fairly bad. I watched him play a lot in college and was happy to see his early success in New Orleans, but he seems to have bizarre confidence issues. When he's good, the Dallas offense runs like a well oiled machine. When he's bad, he's really bad, and the team is often terrible. His jump shot has been terrible to date, he has a hard time finishing in the lane, and his turnover prone. On top of that he seems to grate under hard coaching, which is odd given his UCLA background. Also, his defense is terrible. He runs into screens like he's never seen one before. Be on the look out for his incredulous face when he smacks into someone tonight.

Brand has also been shockingly bad, though he seems to have finally turned a corner. His mid range shot similar fell off the planet. It was excellent last year (45% from 15 foot area) and this year its been horrid (around 30%). But he got going against both Philly and the Pistons so hopefully we'll see more of him playing well.

Our second round rookies have also been a delight. Jae Crowder is the darling of the stats community and he's been fun, if up and down. Bernard James is the real surprise His per minute rebounding is fantastic His shot blocking is incredible. James has also shown much better touch than I would've imagined around the rim. It's nice to be rooting for younger players again. Dallas has been an old folks home for years.

The Phoenix Suns will give you your money back if you don't enjoy this game tonight. All you need to do is fill out something online and ask. That's it. Boom. Free NBA game, if that's what you're angling for.

Me, I'd rather enjoy a fun game and go home happy. So yeah, let's do this Suns! Gimme a fun game!

As I looked through the stats to preview Suns vs. Mavericks, I was shocked by the similarities between these teams. Dallas' big advantage is that they do have a star, but he's been sidelined all season. Without Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavericks and Suns are pretty much evenly matched.

Given evenly matched teams, the advantage goes to the home team. And lucky for Suns fans, for the first time in almost two weeks they are the home team.

Be happy the Suns are at home

Below average teams are terrible on the road. The Phoenix Suns are 5-3 at home, but only 2-9 on the road. Of the Suns five home wins, four of them were come-from-behind variety.

Dallas is 6-3 at home, but only 2-7 on the road. They just lost by 19 last night to the Clippers, a game that was never in doubt after the first quarter.

Don't get whiplash!

Both teams play really fast, likely a product of their lack of overall talent. Dallas is 4th in the league in pace at 94.2, while the Suns are 8th. Expect that ball to move quickly up and down the court.

Hope the Suns to score 100+ points

Both teams are good when they score 100 points - Dallas is 6-1 while the Suns are 5-3. But neither team wants the other to score 100 points, but their opponents almost always do it anyway - Dallas is 3-9 in those situations, while the Suns are 4-9.

But don't expect a pretty game

Neither team is very good at offense, but the Suns are slightly better. Dallas is 18th in offensive rating, while the Suns are 14th.

However, not surprisingly, the Mavericks are a little better on the defensive end - ranking 19th overall in defensive rating, while the Suns are a lowly 29th there.

Dallas can defend, but they can't pull down the rebound.

Especially from the starters

The three Suns who have been starters all season long - Michael Beasley, Marcin Gortat and Goran Dragic - have the team's worst +/- on the season (-7 and -5 and -3 per game, respectively). By far. The question is whether all three guys are really that bad, or whether one guy is bringing the others down. Buy contrast, the team's second unit is a net positive.

Just when you think that's bad, the Mavericks are led in net +/- by none other than Derek Fisher, who has only played a grand total of two games after getting signed last week off the street. The rest of the Mavericks +/- resembles the Suns' - their starters being the worst on the team, with Collison, Mayo and Marion at the bottom of their list.

Adventures in rebounding

When a shot clangs off the rim, adventure begins. Neither team is good at rebounding, but the Suns are much better than the Mavericks.

When the Suns miss: The Phoenix Suns are 15th in the NBA in offensive rebound % (the percent of the time that the Suns pull down their own misses, as compared to the rest of the league), while the Mavericks are a lowly 28th in defensive rebound %.

When Dallas misses: The Phoenix Suns are not bad on the defensive glass, ranking 20th in the NBA in defensive rebound %, while the Mavericks are once again woeful at 29th in offensive rebound %.

Did I mention these teams are not world-beaters?

The Phoenix Suns have not beaten a team that is currently over .500. Dallas has only done it once (Knicks - 114-111). If you look at it in terms of playing teams that were above .500 at the time they played, the Suns are 3-8 in that situation and Dallas is 4-6.

But let's not waste any more time on that stat, since neither team is over .500 in this game.

Battle of top offseason signings

Dallas' top offseason signing was O.J. Mayo, while Phoenix's was Goran Dragic. Mayo scores more, while Dragic passes more. Dragic has more "win shares" on the season (2.0 vs. 1.7), both leading their respective teams.

Both are down a bit after hot starts. Dragic is only averaging 15 and 6 lately, while Mayo's 3-point shooting has cooled off from a blistering start.

Battle of incumbent shooting guards to compliment the top offseason signing

Will Vince Carter go off on us, thanks to Scott Howard's fan club? Carter is the Mavericks best offensive weapon after O.J. Mayo, to the tune of 13.1 PPG (20 points/36 min) and 42% on three-pointers.

On the Suns side, Shannon Brown is doing okay this year but was more stat-filling and impactful off the bench.

We don't need no stinkin' third (or even second) option!

Neither teams boasts a great third option, even if you consider Carter/Brown as valid second options. Neither team has a second or third leading scorer getting more than 13 points per game.

Battle of the new point guards

Darren Collison was acquired to take over for Jason Kidd, but has not played well - only 11 and 6 in 31 minutes. For this reason, reason Derek Fisher was signed off the street last week.

"We need help at point guard," coach Rick Carlisle said in The Dallas Morning News after the team's loss in Chicago last week. "We feel [Fisher] can help us. It's not a cure-all to all of our team challenges, but his expertise and experience will help."

This, of course, was largely due to the suspect play of offseason pickup Darren Collison, who was benched last week after playing inconsistently on offense and poorly on defense throughout November. Replacing him with younger, less experienced players on the roster like Dominique Jones or Rodrigue Beaubois clearly wasn't the answer -- and it only took two straight losses for Dallas to come to that conclusion.

Battle of the Amnesty Claims

Elton Brand basically out of the rotation in favor of Troy "statue" Murphy, while fellow amnesty claim Luis Scola lost his to an inconsistent second-year player. Both began the season in the starting lineup, and now both come off the bench - an unfamiliar role. Brand has an injury history, so he's used to missing time. But he'd nearly always been a starter, just like Scola.

Battle of the Earth-Bound, Bald-Pated Centers

At center, you've got two similarly profiled guys - Chris Kaman vs. Marvin Marcin Gortat. Even their hair is the same this season. They both bring similarities on the court as well. They can rebound, block a few shots and act big around the basket. And they both produce about the same numbers, when it's all said and done.

Battle of the Underwhelming Small Forward Who Fits Best At Undersized Power Forward

Former Sun Shawn Marion faces off against uninspiring Michael Beasley. Marion is now 3,000 years old and showing it, while Michael Beasley only moves like he's that old. Both are their team's worst +/- player on the season.

Unlike other matchups, Suns fans probably wouldn't mind if this one goes Dallas' way.

And it's all about Satisfaction, right?

Hit these other links on the game, too

Mavericks vs Suns coverage

Mavs Moneyball

See the Future: Dallas at Phoenix, Game 19 - Mavs Moneyball
Right now, at this very moment, Dallas is horrible. Truly horrible. And they aren't going to magically improve over night. I don't really see how they improve at all. We're a quarter of the way through the season and they've not corrected any of the problems they've displayed over the past few weeks.

Dallas Mavericks 97, Phoenix Suns 94 There was a time when a Mavericks-Suns game was a marquee matchup, the kind of game routinely picked for a Thursday night nationally-televised showdown. Instead...

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The Suns host the Mavs Thursday night in what used to be headlined as the Nash & Nowitzki Reunion Show.

Tonight's game looks more like the Shawn Marion Bowl...hardly the same effect.

Tonight, these two former powers in the Western Conference are playing in a super star's league without one of their own (Dirk Nowitzki is still out following knee surgery). I can only imagine how difficult it is for Alvin Gentry and Rick Carlisle find consistency without a marquee name in the lineup.

In Phoenix's heartbreak loss at Memphis Tuesday night, there was one play in the 2nd quarter that spoke volumes. Markieff Morris was smothered on a turnaround shot in the post. As he looked to the referee in shock, P.J. Tucker got the rebound and put up a shot of his own. Tucker, too thought he got mauled inside. While the Griz quickly headed downcourt following two misses, Markieff and P.J. were both still beside themselves in the backcourt looking at the refs. That pretty much sums up the task of trying to win in the NBA without a super star player.

Nash and Nowitzki used to do more than lead their teams to victory, their mere presence allowed role players to get All-Star respect. Even their supporting casts fed off of that referee respect.

This season, the Suns and Mavs are both in the bottom half in free throws attempted. They also give up more than they shoot, averaging in the bottom third. Phoenix has shot 390 free throws while their opponents have gotten 442. Dallas, meanwhile, have totaled 378 while giving up 475 (only one team gives up more).

Winning consistently in the NBA is hard enough without this 'charity discrepancy'. So, as the Suns host the Mavs in a nationally televised game, anticipate a very competitive contest.

But don't expect to hear "and one" very often.


The Phoenix Suns are coming off a disastrous road trip in each they dropped five of six games and now sit in 13th place in the Western Conference after only 19 games, primed for the number seven pick in the draft if the season ended today.

But the season does not end today. There are 63 games - more than 75% of the season - left to play. The Suns had the same record a year ago, even getting as bad as seven games under before rallying to a 33-30 record (a 26-18 run) and the edge of the playoffs before dropping their final three.

The year before, they started 15-21 before rallying to a high water mark of 33-30 (a 18-9 run) before fading to 40-42.

The year before that, they started hot-hot-hot at 14-3 before drooping to 26-21 (a 12-18 run) and then killing it over the last two months by finishing on an amazing 28-7 run and a third appearance in the Conference Finals.

The moral of this story is that just because the Suns have started 7-12 doesn't mean that Alvin Gentry won't be able to find the right mix and guide these guys to a very competitive season. Is that a playoff appearance? Probably not, but who knows.

Sure, Dave, but there's a big difference between this team and prior teams. You Know Who was running the point, and now he's gone!

I argue against that because historically Alvin Gentry has gotten more out of his team in the second half of each season, just when Nash would start winding down. I recall a Nash who struggled to shoot as the season wore on, and struggled to stay loose as each individual game wore on as well.

I would cringe if Nash had to be brought back in a tight game at any point in the fourth. You bring him back early - at the 9-minute mark or so - and he'd start well but become a non-factor beyond passing before the two-minute mark. You bring him back at the 6-minute mark or 4-minute mark and he'd come in cold, unable to loosen up enough to make a difference. I did not envy Alvin Gentry's job.

So to me, there's no reason to equate Steve Nash with late-season success any more than Alvin Gentry. And until I see otherwise, I will expect the team to improve (incrementally) each month of the season.

Even to pull a bit of Bright Side out of the 1-5 road trip, the Suns were within one score of winning or tying the game in the final seconds of three of those losses (two of which were against winning teams).

These guys are competitive, with only one really bad loss on the entire season so far. They have won 7 and come within a possession of winning 5 more. And this with no big-time scorer or go-to guy, and half the rotation not playing up to par yet.

Keep the faith, Suns fans. Don't give up hope.

Starting with Satisfaction Guaranteed Night on Thursday December 6 against the Dallas Mavericks, these Suns might just surprise you.

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