Mavs' defensive fade a familiar trend


DALLAS -- Shame on me for being surprised by the Mavericks’ defensive deterioration.

That’s following the old fool me once, fool me twice philosophy. The Dallas defense followed the same start-fast-and-fade pattern last season.

“Defense has got to be the foundation and the starting point,” Rick Carlisle said Tuesday, which might have been the millionth time he delivered that message since becoming the Mavs’ coach. His team has bought in the last two seasons … until the going got tough.

The Mavs seem to be able to sustain their defensive intensity for two months. Or until injuries hit hard.

Last season, Erick Dampier’s bum knee destroyed the Mavs’ defensive chemistry. (Yes, really.) With Dampier in and out of the lineup – and moving even slower than normal when he was on the floor – the Mavs had a drastic defensive dropoff after the New Year’s ball dropped.

The Mavs allowed 99.6 points per 100 possessions and a 43.8 field goal percentage during their 22-10 start through last December. The defensive numbers shot up to 110.1 points per 100 possessions and a 49.4 field goal percentage during a 10-10 stretch from Jan. 1 to the All-Star break, when the acquisition of big man Brendan Haywood in a seven-player blockbuster deal filled a void.

Fast forward to this season’s first two months. The Mavs’ magnificent start (24-7) was fueled by a defense that allowed 100.1 points per 100 possessions and a 43.6 field goal percentage.

In the eight games since New Year’s Eve, the Mavs have allowed 108.1 points per 100 possessions and a 47.2 field goal percentage. Not coincidentally, they’re 2-6 during that stretch.

“I don’t know what happened,” said Dirk Nowitzki, who has played the last two games after a nine-game layoff due to a sprained knee. “When I went down, I think the last thing that was on my mind was that our defense would go down. I thought maybe if we had trouble scoring here and there, which we did in the fourth quarters some times, but I didn’t think our defense would go down like that. So that was a little disappointing.

“For some reason, now it seems like the snowball got started and we can’t stop it.”

Caron Butler’s season-ending knee injury was a bigger defensive blow than Nowitzki’s absence. DeShawn Stevenson typically opens games guarding the opponent’s top wing scorer, but Butler was an extremely effective defender.

According to ESPN Stats and Information, Butler allowed only .76 points per play on defense, which ranked eighth in the NBA. Opponents shot 36.3 percent when defended by Butler.

And it definitely didn’t help matters that center Tyson Chandler, the heart and guts of the Mavs’ defense, missed the last two games and played sick in the previous one.

Not that the ridiculous lack of effort recently can be excused by a rash of injuries, but …

“When you start taking guys out of the lineup, the trust factor starts to decrease,” Chandler said. “Now you’re kind of looking for guys instead of just playing defense. We’ve got to get our trust back up. We’ve got to get our communication back up. Once the trust goes back up, we’ll be fine.”

I’m back in believe-it-when-I-see-it mode.