D must be turned up down stretch


The 41-point third quarter the Memphis Grizzlies put on the Dallas Mavericks to come back from 17 down Sunday night still stings. Though not as badly had the Minnesota Timberwolves' 15-3 run to close Monday's third quarter resulted in a second consecutive loss instead of a three-point win.

The Mavs have won 19 of 21 games and have had streaks of 10 and eight wins each snapped by buzzer-beaters, so it certainly is hard to nit-pick with that type of success. But beneath all those W's, coach Rick Carlisle knows there are aspects that must be corrected before the playoffs.

“There’s a lot of positive aspects to the last 20 games or whatever, but I think there’s got to be some perfectionist inside a team that’s trying to get where we’re going,” Carlisle said. “And if that’s the case, then you can’t let happen what happened [Sunday] night.”

The Mavs begin their final 19 games not so much trying to catch the San Antonio Spurs but wanting to stay ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers for the No. 2 seed. That would give Dallas the homecourt advantage in a potential semifinal series against the two-time defending champs, who have won eight in a row and visit the Mavs on Saturday night for the first of two matchups this month.

First, things resume at the New Orleans Hornets tonight. If starting center Tyson Chandler returns from a three-game absence because of a sprained right ankle, the Mavs will have their full complement of players for the stretch run. And we do mean full. The club didn't make a deadline deal, but it almost seems that way as Carlisle must work in three new players -- Peja Stojakovic, Roddy Beaubois and Corey Brewer -- without having sent any players elsewhere in a trade.

Big offensive outputs have masked shortcomings on defense, where a resurgence must occur. When the Mavs were rolling at 24-5, they ranked in the top five in the league in defensive scoring and defensive field-goal percentage. Players preached defense as much as Carlisle and talked of buying in as the only way to win a championship.

With 19 games left, the Mavs now rank 10th in scoring defense (96.1), 12th in field-goal percentage defense (45.1) and 12th in 3-point percentage defense (35.2 percent).

For the Mavs to get where they want to go, they know what they have to do.

"For us, we've got to find a way to win, but we have to find a way tighten up our defense," Jason Kidd said. "Our dress rehearsal is almost done. We only have 19 games until the real season starts."