The Mavericks left for Miami as an average defensive team.
That’s quite an accomplishment, given the team’s personnel flaws and start to the season. Dallas is coming off its two best defensive performances as it prepares to face the two-time defending champion Miami Heat, having held the Milwaukee Bucks to 83 points and the Washington Wizards to 95 points during a two-game winning streak.
The Mavs still rank 23rd in the NBA in scoring defense with 103.3 points per game. However, they’re 14th in defensive rating (102.3), which is points per 100 possessions, a more accurate measure of defensive efficiency.
That’s proof that all the Mavs’ hard work -- and coach Rick Carlisle’s constant preaching about defense -- is paying off.
“We don’t have a bunch of individual stoppers,” Carlisle said. “We’ve got [Shawn] Marion, who to me is perennial all-defense even though he never gets it. And we’ve got [Samuel] Dalembert, who is one of the best rim protectors. Then on the rest of the team there’s no guys you would say on paper are NBA stoppers, so we have to do it by showing a crowd, by bringing a lot of help and by being really tied together.
“We’re just constantly talking about being together and being tied together, doing it as a team, doing it as a group and all that cliché-sounding stuff. But it really is what makes it work.”
Defense starts with players accepting individual challenges, but the reality is that Jose Calderon, Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki are going to occasionally (or often) be on the wrong side of mismatches.
The key for the Mavs is how they respond when there are defensive breakdowns.
“You get into a lot of defensive scrambles in this league, because as much as you try to quantify situations, guys get beat,” Carlisle said. “They’re NBA players. This is not CYO or this is not the league you play in. These are great players with great ability. Guys get beat, somebody’s gotta help, somebody’s gotta help the helper, we’ve got to be running around like crazy out there.
“If you look at our team, we’ve got to win on basketball IQ, skill, grit and guts. That’s what we’ve got to do it with. We’re not going to do it by out-finessing anybody and that kind of stuff. We’re going to have to do it with some guts.”