1. Who should the Cavaliers use to primarily defend Dirk Nowitzki: Tristan Thompson or Anderson Varejao?
Chris Manning, RightDownEuclid.com Co-EIC: Considering the fact that the Mavericks start the undersized DeJuan Blair at center, I think Varejao is the best option to defend Dirk. He will come closest to matching the German’s height and this can set the Cavaliers up to dominate Dallas on the boards because Tristan Thompson can dominate Blair on both ends. Thompson can then pound the boards on defensive and give the Cavaliers a chance to limit Dallas’ second chance points. As a result, Varejao can hound Nowitzki and use his still somewhat there quickness to keep in front of Dirk and contest his shots. I worry somewhat about Varejao defending Dirk on the three-point line, but it’s not like Tristan is much better at defending players in space.
Trevor Magnotti, Right Down Euclid Staff Writer: It’s gotta be Thompson. Varejao is a good defender in the high post, but Thompson’s athleticism is a much more valuable weapon to stick on the cagey German. Length is important when defending Dirk, because you need the ability to still challenge Dirk’s unstoppable fadeaway. This makes TT the much better option, as his wingspan and quickness will be much more valuable in this cause. Varejao is much more useful in this game battling with Dejaun Blair and Brandan Wright for rebounds.
Tim Cato, Mavericks Moneyball EIC: Historically, Tristan Thompson is going to be the guy who will match up better with Dirk — athletic with a great wingspan. But while Dirk will still get touches in the post and an occasional wing isolation, more and more he’s transitioning into a spot-up shooter…and quite possibly the best one in the league. If Thompson matches him, he’ll have to stayed glued to Dirk as much as possible, and hope his teammates rotate quickly if he steps off his man to help on defense. This is especially true for the trailing three-point shot. Dirk’s had that shot since he entered the league, but over the past few weeks, he’s actively looking for it.
2. Monta Ellis has cooled off as of late, but has still been an effective player for the Mavs this season. How is this happening?
CM: To me, this seems like Ellis is producing in the first legitimate winning situation he’s ever played in. In the few Dallas games I have seen this season, he is playing more controlled and isn’t shooting jumpers just for the sake of shooting jumpers. These sound like very trite and minuscule changes, but they help and statistically, his per 36 stats are up across the board. And it seems to have made Ellis a productive NBA player when it seemed as if he’d always be one of those players putting up big numbers by virtue of being the best player on bad teams. He also isn’t Dallas’ primary ball handler since the Mavericks have Jose Calderon in the backcourt next to him and he’s an excellent distributor. In short, Ellis was in NBA purgatory and now he looks like he can me a piece on good playoffs teams and not the 2012-2013 Milwaukee Bucks.
TM: I’ve always argued that Monta would be a better player with a pass-first point guard instead of being paired with a scoring guard. This has been how it’s worked out in his career. He was a great young talent when paired with Baron Davis, then faded a bit when he had to play with Stephen Curry. He was simply terrible when he shared the backcourt with Brandon Jennings, and now he’s good again with Jose Calderon as his primary backcourt-mate? That’s too much to be coincidental. The numbers also back this up; if you look at Monta’s splits with Stephen Curry or Brandon Jennings on the floor as opposed to without, he always shot better with the other scorer on the bench. I think the winning situation helps as well, but I think the Mavs are winning because of Montaball. Putting him with one of the premier passers in the league was the key.
TC: I’ve gotten this question plenty, and I can’t blame the rest of the NBA for their curiosity. He’s had an up-and-down career, but at this point, we can all agree sub-42% field goal shooting last year in Milwaukee was a terrible situation for him. Joining Dallas over the summer on a three year, $27 million contract, he arguably has more talent around him than ever before.
No longer does Monta have to worry about the brunt of the opposing team’s defensive pressure on him night in and night out. He’s always been an explosive scorer, but stepping back to a secondary scoring role has allowed his playmaking to shine. Don’t let his shooting guard title fool you; he facilitates the Mavericks offense for much of the game. He’ll fall into stretches where he becomes jump shot-happy, often forgetting to the run the offense in favor of an isolation fallaway, but his much more efficient play is crucial to the playoff spot Dallas currently holds, albeit by a narrow margin.
3. How does Luol Deng’s defense help a team that’s in the bottom half of the league, and who will he likely guard?
CM: Deng gives the Cavaliers a legitimately on-ball defender who also is a smart off-ball defender that won’t lose his place in help side defense and then leave the Cavaliers vulnerable to ball movement that, in past games, opposing teams an opportunity to get consistent open looks from deep. There are still kinks – the Cavaliers are still vulnerable to teams good at driving and kicking – but Deng unquestionably makes them better. Against Dallas, Deng should exclusively defend Shawn Marion and Vince Carter. The latter will be especially important if their minutes matchup.
TM: Deng’s going to be a big help in shutting down the Mavs’ weakest position. Between Shawn Marion, Vince Carter, and Jae Crowder, the Mavs lack quickness and athleticism on the wing, and Deng can easily defend any of these guys. He can stop Vince from being a big bench scorer, can crash the glass just as well as Marion can, and he’s just better at most things than Crowder. The Cavs probably have a lot more to worry about in stopping Calderon from dissecting their defense with his passing or Dirk doing Dirk things than anything Deng is going to be involved with.
TC: Deng was a huge part of Tom Thibodeau’s grueling Chicago defense over the past few years and one of the toughest guys in the NBA, and so combining him with Anderson Varejao should turn Cleveland into a team that can play teams tough. I think Monta’s too quick for him, but shutting down Vince Carter off the bench (if their minutes line up right) would do wonders towards disrupting the Mavericks’ top five offense and a surging second unit.