Nets-Mavericks, 8:30 P.M.: Pregame 1-on-1 vs. Rob Mahoney

Deron Williams allegedly has visions of Dallas, Marc Cuban has visions of Dwight Howard, and Zach Lowe says “not so fast.

Speaking of Deron Williams in Dallas, the Nets play the reigning world champion Dallas Mavericks tonight in Dallas, in the first game back after the All-Star Break. Avery Johnson coaches against his former team as Jason Kidd (and Vince Carter, and Brandan Wright, and Yi Jianlian, and I guess Sean Williams) takes on his former team. Brook Lopez is expected to play up to 30 minutes tonight, and Lamar Odom is out with a family matter for Dallas.

This also marks the first appearance of new small forward Gerald Green, best known for blowing out a birthday cupcake candle sitting on the rim in the 2008 Slam Dunk Contest.

Joining me to preview tonight’s game is superblogger Rob Mahoney, of The Two Man Game, NBC Pro Basketball Talk, and the New York Times Off-The-Dribble Blog. Rob also wrote a book: Mavericks Stampede, on the improbable 2011 Dallas Mavericks’ championship run. You should go buy it right now because it’s awesome. No, seriously. Leave this pre-game alone for five minutes and go pick it up.

Welcome back! Now, In the blogger’s 1-on-1 game, I ask Rob three questions on the Dallas Mavericks, then he responds with three questions on the New Jersey Nets. You’ll quickly find out that Rob is far more eloquent in his questioning than I.

Rob on the Dallas Mavericks

Devin: Without Tyson Chandler, how do the Mavs defend the paint this year?

Dallas’ defense does two things very well: keep opponents out of the paint entirely (a wonder considering the age of their perimeter defenders), and completely smother opponents with multiple defenders when they do manage to create dribble penetration. Not a bad defensive formula.

There aren’t any elite shot blockers in the bunch, but Brendan Haywood plays strong positional (and post) defense, Ian Mahinmi and Brandan Wright are both very active bigs, and the Mavs’ perimeter players love to dig down to take swipes at dribbles and deflect pass attempts. There’s real systemic strength to the Mavs’ interior defense; the rotations and challenges are fairly crisp, and the execution on the whole is pretty fluid.

What’s happened to Lamar Odom this year?

It’s tough to say, and honestly, it’s likely even tough for him to say. Far too much has gone on in the past 10 months or so for us to pick out one individual variable that sent Odom’s balance awry. Perhaps it may be the mounting number of unfortunate factors — from the stress of a reality TV show following him around to being traded from an organization he called home to the death and illness of loved ones — that forced Odom to retreat into himself. All we know is that the basketball product this season is not indicative of Odom’s standard, and there’s really no telling when he might play like himself again.

Where do you see the Mavs’ biggest advantage tonight?

It’s not a specific matchup advantage, per se, but I think Shawn Marion’s defense on Deron Williams will be fairly crucial. It’s not just a matter of locking down the Nets’ best player; if Marion can successfully stall New Jersey’s offense at the point of initiation with his length and defensive skill, Dallas should be in for an easy win. The Nets have a crippling lack of shot creation, and their unique reliance on Williams could allow Marion’s defense to play a very significant role.

Devin on the New Jersey Nets

Rob: MarShon Brooks has been catching my eye all season with his scoring creativity, but I admittedly can’t watch enough Nets games to properly assess his defensive development. How has Brooks fared on that end of the court, and are you ultimately discouraged or encouraged regarding his defensive future?

Brooks is largely the same defender as he was at Providence: focus as little as possible, and as much as necessary. Unfortunately, while you can get away with that at the NCAA level, it’s a recipe for disaster in the NBA. His incomparable length means his hands are in the way of poorly thrown passes, but he’s not quick enough to guard the perimeter well nor is he active enough off the ball to make a difference. He’s often trailing shooters through screens, seemingly without a sense of where he’s ending up. I’m optimistic for his future on the defensive end if only because of that insane length and the fact that he can turn it on for brief moments, but I don’t think he’ll ever be a world-class defender.

2. It always sticks out to me that the Nets have so many decent/strong three-point shooters (in theory), but almost all of those players are shooting dismal percentages from beyond the arc. What is it about New Jersey’s offense that makes life so difficult for perimeter marksmen?

The players will say the sight lines at the Prudential Center stink, and they may have a point — the Nets shoot far better on the road than they do at home. But more important in my eyes is the complete lack of a consistent inside presence. The most common post-up players for the Nets this year (via mySynergySports): Deron Williams, Anthony Morrow, and MarShon Brooks. That’s also their three biggest three-point shooters this year. The bigs aren’t post players; Kris Humphries is a threat only off cuts, and Shelden Williams and Johan Petro speak for themselves. Without that threat inside, teams have no issue with pushing the perimeter against the Nets, and so many of their three-pointers have come off too-quick releases, pump fakes, and with hands in faces. But, naturally, with Brook Lopez returning, the Nets (and I) hope all that changes fast.

3. Every Maverick opponent is faced with the unenviable task of attempting to limit Dirk Nowitzki. How do you see Avery Johnson electing to defend Dirk, and which individual defender do you think would give him the most trouble?

I don’t see anyone giving Dirk a lot of trouble, but I’d expect the Nets to go the traditional positional route and throw Kris Humphries at him as much as possible. While Dirk won’t have too much issue shooting over Humphries in the post or from outside of 20 feet, Humphries has surprised as a man defender in the past two seasons; he’s been one of the better isolation defenders in the league despite his assumed defensive shortcomings. The tunnel vision he often exhibited on offense has swung to the other side of the floor, which isn’t always a good thing, but when his man has the ball Humphries is adept at minimizing good shots taken against him.

When Humphries is out, I’d expect the Nets to throw Shelden Williams at him, though as Ryan Anderson taught and Avery Johnson reiterated to us last week, Shelden has little hope when guarding stretch 4’s.

News from Around NYC