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Previewing Nets vs. Mavericks: 5 Questions with Tim Cato of Mavs Moneyball

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The Brooklyn Nets hit the road for a 3-game swing, starting Sunday night in Dallas. We asked Tim Cato, the editor of Mavs Moneyball, a few questions about the Dallas Mavericks to help us preview Sunday night's matchup and, well, here's what he had to say.

Wait, did I just read somewhere that Monta Ellis is the Mavs' "new closer"? Is that true? Is he the guy you want with the ball in his hand with the game on the line or is that still Dirk Nowitzki?

Tim Cato: Yeah, let's slow down a little with that. What is true is that Monta had an excellent fourth quarter Friday night, including back-to-back pull-up threes to ice the game against the Nuggets (who had previously beaten the Mavericks in all three match-ups this season). As Dirk told the media after the game, a huge part of being the "closer" is confidence, and Monta certainly doesn't lack that. However, Dirk is still the guy who any reasonable Mavericks fan wants to be taking the shots late in the game. He's needed help in that category ever since Jason Terry left, so it's good to see Ellis chip in at times. But it's still the Dirk show, first and foremost.

What would you call this period of Mavs' basketball? A transitional period? A pre-rebuild? A title contending team?

NetsDaily Q&A With Mavs Moneyball

It's a "throw stuff against the wall and see what sticks" period. Dirk is still a player the Mavericks can build around for another year or two. He's probably going to fall a little short, but he had a legitimate chance at his second 50/40/90 season while shooting about 16 times a game. Last year, the Mavericks asked O.J. Mayo and Darren Collison to take steps up in their careers, and they couldn't. This year, they gambled on Monta Ellis, and he has played very well for Dallas. Are they going to do anything but lose to OKC or San Antonio in the first round? Probably not. But it's an improvement from missing the playoffs and finishing last season with just 41 wins.

$30 million comes off of the books next year for the Mavericks, and it will be interesting to if Dallas can throw some more stuff at the wall. Part of that money will go to Dirk, but he's already made it clear he's giving this team a sizeable discount. $10 million would be in line with what Garnett and Duncan got, but knowing Dirk, it wouldn't surprise me if he signed for even cheaper. Carmelo Anthony isn't coming to Dallas and I think the front office finally realizes that. But with the remaining money, the front office can focus on taking a small step forward -- like they did from last season to this. With the right moves in the offseason, it's not completely out of the picture to see the Mavericks as a top five or six team in the West to give Dirk one more shot at making some noise.

Was Mark Cuban right in his criticism about Dirk Nowitzki? Did that whole "thing" bother you?

Mark Cuban calling out Dirk's defense was weird timing, more than anything. He's totally right -- Dirk's 35 and keeps getting a step slower, something that hasn't effected his jump shot but keeps hurting him defensively. Considering the load he carries on offense at his age, it's no surprise he can be caught sleeping here or there on defense. In fact, Cuban's time may have been better spent calling out a starting back court of Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis who are both worse defenders than Dirk. But well-intentioned as they might be, I can't side with Cuban on this one -- I just don't see any way that it was helpful in this situation. Fortunately, what minor controversy it started has already blown over.

Dallas is 19-17 on the road this season. Does it concern you that they are hovering around .500 on the road, especially since it seems as if they'll have to start off a first round playoff series on the road?

A few of Dallas' signature wins have come on the road (beating Indiana and Oklahoma City in the past month), but yes, it's worrisome. I'm being careful not to look ahead too much to the playoffs, because it's still far from a guarantee. But really, the Mavericks could play all seven games of the first round series at home, and San Antonio, Oklahoma City or Los Angeles would all still probably win. Dallas has a decent team with a great offense, but there just isn't enough they can do to stop the match-up problems any of the Western Conference teams provide. I would give them a 30/70 of pulling the upset against Houston, but a quick look at the standings shows that the Rockets moving up to the No. 3 seed and the Mavericks going to No. 6 before the end of the season is probably unlikely.

Who would win in a fight: Mark Cuban or Mikhail Prokhorov?

Cuban isn't afraid to fight dirty, so I'll give him the win. He'll sneak up on Prokhorov in that new meditation room at the Barclays and go straight for the headlock.