So the Bulls will look to put their sorry performance against the Bucks behind them when the Mavericks come to the United Center on Wednesday night. The Mavs are on the second of a back-to-back (they lost last night against the 76ers) and are still without Dirk Nowitzki, so this is a game that should be won, but this is the Bulls we're talking about here. Also, O.J. Mayo!
To help preview the game tonight, I did a little Q&A with Kirk Henderson of SB Nation's Mavs Moneyball. Click here for my answers to his Bulls questions, and below you'll find his answers to my Mavs questions:
1. The Mavs seem to be playing relatively well on offense without Dirk Nowitzki, but the defense has been absolutely atrocious. Why has the defense been so bad and what are some of the things a pedestrian offense like the Bulls can do to exploit it?
It's been a combination of new players in a defensive scheme as well as those new players being unable to do what they are asked within that defensive scheme. For example, the Mavs have been unable to defend the pick and roll at all. Darren Collison behaves as if he's never seen a screen before and Chris Kaman or Elton Brand are asked to show high and recover on the roll or slip and neither have the foot speed to do so consistently. This forces a rotation, which forces another rotation and the entire defense breaks down. Then everyone's out of position for rebounding and Dallas gives those up in bunches.
All the Bulls need to do is run pick and rolls and move the ball crisply. I actually think the Dallas defense will get better as the season goes on. Obviously they can't correct for their players losing athleticism, but timing and trusting your teammates takes time.
2. Speaking of Dirk, when is he expected back? I miss that crazy fadeaway jumper of his.
Dirk is scheduled to get back on the court (for rehab) in another two weeks. I don't think he makes it back out on to the court until December 20th or so. Unfortunately, that day opens a slate of brutal games for the Mavs: Miami, Memphis, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Denver, and San Antonio again.
3. Many Bulls fans clamored for O.J. Mayo the past few seasons as a guy to pair with Derrick Rose in the backcourt. After signing with the Mavs this summer, Mayo is looking like the steal of the offseason. What has been the key to him unlocking his vast potential?
First, simply giving him the green light to shoot and him understanding that he won't be pulled for a bad shot. His willingness to be coached by Carlisle has been important as well. He's managed to get to the free throw line enough and his three point shot is falling with enough regularity to boost his overall numbers. The Mavs have needed his scoring punch.
However, with increased playing time and responsibility, it's clear he has a number of holes in his game. His defensive awareness goes from middling to non-existent. His passing, shockingly enough, is incredibly inconsistent and he goes through stretches where he makes passes a high school JV squad could anticipate. He has no concept of how to use a screener, either off ball or in the pick and roll. I cringe whenever he puts the ball on the floor for more than a dribble or two.
That's not to say he hasn't been incredible. But he's 25. There is so much that he is behind in, in terms of development, that I have a hard time seeing what his actual ceiling is. Dirk has this amazing ability to make you forget about the weaknesses of his teammates because when he has the ball, good things tend to happen. If he and Mayo can work well at all, Dallas is going to have a lot of offensive success.
4. The Bulls have a little familiarity with Darren Collison going back to his days with the Pacers. How has he adjusted to his new digs in Dallas and how would you grade his performance so far?
I'd give him a C. For every great stretch, he has an equally bad or worse stretch that boggles the mind. When he's pushing on offense and the Mavs are running, the offense looks great. In the half court offense and in pick and roll situations, though, he's been questionable at best. The main culprit is his shooting. Where he's getting his shots in the Dallas offense, usually either at the rim or within 10-15 feet, he's either on fire or horrible. As a result, sometimes he's reluctant to shoot or probe with the dribble and he has a tendency to telegraph his passes. Again, how he works with Dirk will be key, as Dirk draws so much offensive attention. Collison started the season great, but at times has been so bad that Carlisle has replaced him with backups Roddy Beaubois or Dominique Jones, neither of whom light the world on fire.
5. The Bulls' bench has been a crapfest so far this season. Who are the key guys to watch out for on the Mavs bench, and how likely is it that the Bulls' subs break out of their slump against them?
Vince Carter, Jae Crowder, Brandan Wright, and Bernard James have all been huge off the bench this season. Unfortunately, Vince Carter is the only player who Carlisle goes to with any consistency, though he's been great in limited time. As far as if the Bench Blob can break out against them? If Troy Murphy's corpse plays minutes as he always seems to, its likely. I actually have a really hard time saying because this Dallas team is such a Jekyll and Hyde situation, we never know what we're getting. They've lost games to the Bobcats in OT (propelling them on their current solid run), the Pacers by 20 (who at the time came in to the game shooting 38% on the season as a team), and the Lakers by 26. I wouldn't be shocked if Dallas rolls over on the second night of a back to back on the road.
6. Delonte West was recently waived by the Mavs, and he's a guy the Bulls could potentially use to shore up their backcourt. What's the story with him and is he worth taking a flier on?
Please take a flier on him. I love his game. The story behind him, at least what went on in his final days in Dallas, is a mystery. The Mavs front office is somehow able to keep any news of value under wraps unless they want it out there, in which case they tell the media directly. He was having some disagreements, possibly with playing time or maybe even with his family, and it was causing disruptions for the team. When pressed to answer what happened, all of his teammates wouldn't comment on the situation, but all of them, without fail, stuck up for him as a person. By all accounts he's a wonderful teammate and he plays so hard, its easy to root for the guy. He has his issues with mental health, but he's honest about them. If the Bulls are prepared to work with him, its a win win.
7. What are the Mavs' goals for this season and where do you ultimately see them ending up?
The initial goal was to make the playoffs for the 13th straight year. Now, at 7-8, and staring at two or three more weeks without Dirk, I'm not sure. I'm the negative one on the Mavs Moneyball staff; I still think it was ridiculous for Cuban to let the No. 2 center in the NBA walk in an attempt to sign the No. 1 center. I don't think this team is very good, and their current issues with rebounding and defense likely aren't going to be fixed by Dirk. I see no value in being a No. 8 seed only to get swept. But that's the most likely course, given the fact that Dirk is great.