51 Q: Can Parsons, Matthews get healthy, lift Dallas to the playoffs?

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PBT is previewing the 2015-16 NBA season by tackling 51 big questions that we can’t wait to see answered once play tips off. We will answer one a day right up to the start of the season Oct. 27. Today’s question:

Can Wesley Matthews and Chandler Parsons get healthy enough to lift Dallas into the playoffs?

There was a time, just a few years ago, when the answer to this question was “it doesn’t matter, they have Dirk Nowitzki.”

It’s not anymore. Nowitzki is still good — he averaged 17.3 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 1.9 assists a game last season — but he has slipped from the ranks of “top-5, can carry a team all by himself” status. If you watched him last season, you saw him miss more open looks than anyone remembers. According to the shot tracking stats at NBA.com, Nowitzki hit 47 percent of his open looks on two-pointers last season — when the defender was 4-6 feet away — which is well down from 52 percent the season before. He hit just 42 percent of his open jumpers inside 10 feet. He missed more of his isolation jumpers. The shots just were not falling at the same rate as they did with the Mavs title team in 2011 or the next couple seasons, and at age 37 the slide is likely to continue.

Nowitzki needs help. And that’s where the health of Wesley Matthews and Chandler Parsons will decide the potential playoff fate of Dallas. (The health and play of Deron Williams will be the other key part of any playoff push.)

If healthy and playing near their peaks, Parsons and Matthews provide quality wing scoring and defensive options that Rick Carlisle would deploy brilliantly to space the floor and exploit mismatches. If D-Will and Nowitzki run a pick-and-pop, Matthews is spacing the floor at the arc and Parsons makes a smart cut to the basket, it’s not going to be easy to defend.

But will Parsons and Matthews be healthy enough to make that a reality?

Dallas went the full Bill Belichick on Parson’s injury, trying to keep secret what was actually done for reasons only they and the Illuminati know. It turns out to have been a hybrid microfracture surgery on a non-weight-bearing part of his knee, which is a good thing for Mavs fans. Parsons still is not cutting and jumping at full speed, but he should be able to play at the start of the season, if not very soon after.

Matthews is recovering from a torn Achilles and his timetable stretches out further. What Rick Carlisle said the other day seemed slightly misconstrued, he said Matthews will be back on the court by Christmas, but that is likely sooner. Matthews has tried to push for the start of the season, but Thanksgiving may be more realistic.

The bigger question is can these guys return to peak form quickly following their return?

History says no. Guys coming off microfracture tend to take some time to fully trust that knee again (as with other knee injuries) and they can be somewhat limited for a while. That timeline stretches out even further with guys coming back from a torn Achilles —most players are never quite as explosive or quick again, and even the few that have gotten the full measure of their athleticism back have taken a while to reach that point.

Dallas does not have much depth behind these two guys — Justin Anderson and John Jenkins are your primary backups. Williams can play some at the two if J.J. Barea is at the point (and I expect we will see a lot of guard-heavy lineups early in the season from Dallas), but none of these options are particularly threatening to opponents.

The other problem for Dallas is they are in the West — if they get off to a slow start without their two best wing players, it may be hard to dig out of the hole in the second half and get back into playoff contention.

Dallas likely will battle Utah and Phoenix for the eight seed in the West (this assumes that the Warriors, Clippers, Spurs, Rockets, Thunder, Grizzlies, and Pelicans will make it and fill in the top seven seeds in some order). It’s likely going to take 46 or more wins to make the cut.

If Dallas is going to get to that number, they need a lot of things to go right. Nowitzki can’t decline much, D-Will needs to bounce back, someone has to step up as a defensive stopper in the paint, and they are going to need big seasons out of Parsons and Matthews. I think those two will play well together and lift this team, particularly after the All-Star break when they are healthy and recovered. That should have Dallas in the mix for the playoffs in the West.

But I’ve got a feeling it will be too little, too late to earn an invite to the postseason dance by beating out younger, healthier teams.

Rumor: Indiana coach Nate McMillan is on hot seat

Indiana coach hot seat
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Last season, Indiana’s Nate McMillan finished fourth in Coach of the Year voting, taking a team that lost star Victor Oladipo after just 36 games and still got them into the playoffs. McMillan is going to get COY votes again this year for much the same reason — his teams play good defense and overachieve.

Indiana coach Nate McMillan is also on the hot seat.

It’s surprising, and it’s just a rumor, but ESPN’s Jeff Van Gundy and Zach Lowe had this conversation on a recent episode of The Lowe Post podcast (hat tip PacersTalk.net).

Van Gundy: “I had two people come up to me since I’ve been here [in the NBA restart bubble] and say, ‘Nate McMillan’s in trouble.’”

Lowe: “It’s been the hottest rumor all season… What you’ve heard in Orlando’s been going around all season…

“Let me be clear: It’s just a rumor. I don’t know if it’s true. When you talk to people around the Pacers, they say, ‘It’s not true’ or ‘Where you’d hear that from?’”

Maybe management wants a more modern offense, the Pacers are bottom eight in both three pointers attempted and pace. Overall, Indiana’s offense is middle of the pack (18th in the league), which is not bad considering it was without Oladipo for most of the season (and he was playing his way into shape when he returned and was not at an All-NBA level).

It’s hard to imagine that the Pacers would make a change this offseason, which will be short and give a new coach less time to ramp up a program. Plus, does owner Herb Simon want to pay two coaches? The finances of the league are helping other coaches keep their jobs.

More than all that, McMillan doesn’t deserve to be fired.

Not that “deserved” has had much to do with NBA coaches keeping their jobs in the past.

 

Report: NBA players bypassing ‘snitch’ hotline to call Adam Silver directly

NBA commissioner Adam Silver
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No NBA players have been diagnosed with coronavirus in the bubble. And they want to keep it that way. A championship and a lot of money are on the line.

That means preventing players from having close contact with anyone outside the bubble. And, in case someone contracts coronavirus, wearing masks (intact masks) to prevent a wider outbreak.

The NBA set up a hotline – quickly dubbed the “snitch” hotline – for players to report violations.

Chris Haynes of TNT:

Players have been circumventing that process. Sources informed me that multiple players are personally calling commissioner Adam Silver to issue their complaints with things they’re seeing in the bubble.

Adam Silver is accessible to players – particularly the president of the union.

I’m not sure about tattling straight to the top boss when there are other protocols in place. Are hotline calls not resulting in changed behavior?

Either way, it’s important for the NBA to keep players safe – both for their health and the league’s revenue (about half of which goes to players in salary). So, cut Chris Paul anyone calling Silver a break. They’re at least trying to help. And so far, violations inside the bubble have led to reminders, not harsher discipline.

Zion Williamson sitting out Pelicans-Wizards (rest)

Pelicans big Zion Williamson
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The Pelicans have been one of the NBA’s most disappointing teams in the bubble. New Orleans has gone 1-3 at Disney World and fallen to 13th in the Western Conference.

Still (barely) hanging in the race to make the play-in, the Pelicans must face the Wizards without Zion Williamson.

Pelicans:

The Pelicans are treating Williamson carefully – and they should. He’s their 20-year-old franchise player with major health concerns.

But New Orleans still has its highest ceiling now with Williamson on the floor. He’s an offensive force. His interior scoring and gravity create efficient looks for himself and teammates.

Williamson has been woeful defensively, and the Pelicans have bigs – Derrick Favors and Jaxson Hayes – to take Williamson’s minutes. New Orleans can go small, too.

The Pelicans should still beat Washington, even without Williamson. Ideally, this will have Williamson ready for a closing stretch against the Spurs, Kings and Magic without sacrificing today’s game.

Yet, this is really just proof New Orleans isn’t as ready to launch as it appears during Williamson’s most exciting moments. His availability remains murky. His team has run hot and cold. I wouldn’t assume a win over the Wizards – though it’s a game the Pelicans need to preserve their fading playoff hopes.

Rumor: Next NBA season could begin in March

Wizards guard Bradley Beal and 76ers center Joel Embiid
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The NBA could reportedly delay the start of next season – currently planned for Dec. 1 – if fan attendance becomes foreseeable.

How long would the league wait?

Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times:

one plan includes starting in March if the NBA feels they can get fans in the arena by then, as well as not lose personnel and viewership to the Summer Olympics.

I understand the temptation to delay. The coronavirus pandemic has made it more difficult for NBA teams to turn a profit.

But this plan would invite all sorts of complications:

  • What if there’s no vaccine, cure or comparable solution by March? Then, the league would have wasted months getting practically no revenue – rather than reduced revenue – without reaching a more favorable point. (However, maybe owners could also reduce costs with a lockout.)
  • Starting the season in March would radically alter the NBA’s calendar. Shifting back to an October – or even December – start date would mean even more upheaval, potentially for several years.
  • The Tokyo Olympics are scheduled for July and August 2021. The Olympics have been a powerful tool for the NBA and its players expanding their global reach.

These are unique and trying circumstances. Coronavirus is a massive and confounding variable. Everything should be on the table.

Do I predict next season will begin in March? No. But apparently the possibility is being considered, which is something.