DALLAS – The Mavericks have known since this summer that they’d have to overachieve to be decent defensively.
They’re largely living down to expectations so far this season.
The Mavs are allowing 103.0 points per game, the second most in the NBA. Their defensive rating of 107.2 points per 100 possessions ranks 25th in the league.
That’s not acceptable to coach Rick Carlisle. That’s why the Mavs primarily focused on defense – and keeping opponents out of the paint, in particular – during Monday’s practice.
“It’s got to be a collective group challenge that we take on,” Carlisle said.
Small forward Shawn Marion is the only player on the roster who has ever been called a defensive stopper. As versatile as he is, he can only be asked to do so much at 35 years old.
Guards Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis arrived in Dallas with reputations as defensive liabilities. Calderon won’t get any quicker and Ellis won’t get any taller over the course of the season. And power forward Dirk Nowitzki’s athletic limitations are well known.
“We knew that in July that that’s going to be one of our weaknesses,” Nowitzki said of the Mavs’ defensive woes. “Some nights we hide it better. Sometimes we switch it up with some zone, but that’s going to be a piece of work. We’ve got to work on it daily. We don’t have a team with a lot of great one-on-one defenders. It’s stating the obvious. We’ve just got to make it work as a team and help each other.”
In Dirk's version of English, "piece of work" means "work in progress," but either meaning would be accurate in this instance.
The Mavs count on center Samuel Dalembert to have a strong presence as a rim protector. But he’s been caught out of position too often and occasionally bullied on the block by big men such as Houston’s Dwight Howard and Minnesota’s Nikola Pekovic, allowing them to catch the ball too deep in the paint.
“Defensively, we all have to look at ourselves in the mirror and see things that need to be done, how you can help the player next to you to be better,” Dalembert said. “We’ve got to continue to take pride in defense, keep guys in front of us and do a better job, starting with me.”
Realistically, with this roster, the Mavs aren’t going to be a good defensive team. They’re determined, however, to be better than they’ve been.