That’s obvious just by looking at the starting lineup. Jose Calderon and Dirk Nowitzki have issues when it comes to lateral quickness, to put it kindly. Monta Ellis is at a significant size disadvantage against many shooting guards – such as James Harden, who torched the Mavs for 34 points Friday night – and arrived in Dallas with a less than stellar reputation as a defender.
That’s why Carlisle stressed defense so much during training camp. He took it as a personal challenge and tried to make sure that every player on the Mavs roster did, too.
So far, so bad.
It’s a small sample size, but the Mavs have allowed an average of 111 points per game, the second-most in the NBA this season. Adjusting for pace, the Mavs rank 24th with a defensive rating of 108.6 (points per 100 possessions). Dallas ranked 27th in scoring defense (101.7) and 19th in defensive rating (106.5) last season.
The Mavs managed to beat the Atlanta Hawks despite allowing 109 points. They weren’t able to keep up while allowing 113 points to the Houston Rockets. The goal is to be able to occasionally win a game without putting on an offensive clinic.
“Shot-making will come and go in this league or any league,” Carlisle said. “But the consistency has to come with the disposition on defense, staying with the rules, staying with the system.”
The Mavs have a sound defensive scheme, the same one they used en route to the 2011 title. They’ll mix in zone more than most teams to mask individual flaws, but when defense is discussed in the locker room, the focus is at least as much on intangibles as it is on X’s and O’s.
“We’ve all got to hold each other accountable,” said Shawn Marion, the Mavs’ best defensive player. “We’ve just got to step up to the plate. We know what it is. Either we’re going to defend or we’re not going to defend. It’s just that simple. The offense is going to be there, but at the same time, we’ve got to have that defensive presence.”
Added Vince Carter: “We’ve got to figure it out. I think we’re capable. We’ll figure it out.”
If the Mavs don’t, it won’t be for a lack of work.