GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- You wouldn't think it's possible for a team to play better defense after losing their defensive anchor down low. But that's the case with the Mavericks.
During the team's 2010-11 championship run with All-Defensive Second Team member Tyson Chandler, they allowed 96.0 points per game (10th-best) and 45.0 percent shooting (eighth-best). Now they're only allowing 90.8 points per game (fifth-best) and 41.4 shooting -- the best mark in the league.
"Well, they're the defending champions. You know they were going to get together," Mike D'Antoni said after Saturday's practice at the Knicks' training facility. "Dirk's got his legs and they're good. They had a great win [Friday] night in Philadelphia, so no surprise. They're good."
While the condensed schedule and the increased back-to-backs have worn offenses down a bit -- scoring is down across the board compared to last season -- Chandler isn't surprised by Dallas' domination on D since he departed for New York.
"I think we became a good defensive team. It wasn't individual," he said. "I feel like they kind of had some lows at the beginning of the season, but I feel like they'll get it together."
D'Antoni credited the Mavericks' veteran leadership, which is represented in every member of the team's starting five to the bench featuring Jason Terry and Lamar Odom, for their maintaining their defensive excellence.
"Obviously they have a good system and they do a heck of a job. They play well, because you know what? They're all veterans," he said. "And that's a big deal in this league. As you get older, you get smarter and you play better defense. You know the rotations, you don't hesitate and it's all on reactions. Not many young teams play well defensively, and that's the reason."
On Saturday, the Knicks watched film as a collective unit and then broke apart for individual sessions. They also went over Dallas' offensive strategy and their defensive strategies. Amare Stoudemire said the keys for the Knicks are to continue to move the ball, stay active on offense and play aggressively on defense.
The one matchup the Knicks will really have to rely on is Jeremy Lin outplaying the 6-foot-7 Shawn Marion, who's the Mavericks' most versatile defender and will be assigned to the point guard. That's especially true with Carmelo Anthony likely out and not returning until the Knicks' game Monday night against the Nets.
Sunday will mark the third straight game Lin will have a bigger-sized, long-armed player defending him. On Wednesday it was the Kings' 6-foot-6 Tyreke Evans, and on Friday it was the Hornets' 6-foot-6 Greivis Vasquez. Marion, however, poses the biggest threat of them all.
"Shawn has always been a phenomenal defensive player," Stoudemire said. "Back with us in Phoenix, he was one of our key stoppers. An area Shawn thrives in on is with deflections, which is not really in the stat sheet. That's really key for a team. That's what he does best. He's very talented. He's very quick. He's very athletic. He's a smart defensive player and he's doing a great job for Dallas."
If Lin can break down Marion, it will allow the Knicks to flourish as they've been doing: capitalizing on lob passes and open shots, which has led to their balanced scoring from the starting five to the second unit. Case in point: In the Knicks' 100-85 win over the Kings on Wednesday night, six players -- in addition to Lin -- scored in double figures.
D'Antoni said Lin shouldn't simply key in on Marion; rather it's about "taking what the defense gives you, because that's how you exploit a good defensive team" like the Mavericks. He said Lin understands that philosophy and will be prepared for Sunday's game.
"He's a smart kid, like [Friday] night I thought in the second half he played well. He had one turnover," he said. "He just seems to have them in bunches right now. But if we can iron that out, he's good. Other than that, his game is good. Again, 26 points, five assists. You might say, 'Oh, that's not Linsanity.' But for any NBA player, that's pretty good. Just too many turnovers."
Lin is especially looking forward to playing against Jason Kidd, who he's watched closely through his career and calls "a legend." That excitement has carried over to all the Knicks.
"It's going to be a big game tomorrow," Stoudemire said. "Everybody is motivated and ready to go."
Jared Zwerling covers the Knicks for ESPNNewYork.com.
You can follow him on Twitter at jaredzwerling.