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Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Opening Tip: Can Mavs slow star PGs?

By Tim MacMahon

DENVER -- San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker's return from his midseason rest came just in time to torment the Dallas Mavericks.

Now comes the Denver Nuggets' Ty Lawson, who didn't look real rusty in his first game back after missing a few weeks because of a fractured rib, tuning up for Wednesday's game against the Mavs with a 31-point, 11-assist performance Monday against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Stephen Curry

Mavericks point guard Jose Calderon, left, has had trouble this season keeping up with elite point guards such as Steph Curry.

And the point guard problems will keep coming for Dallas. The Portland Trail Blazers' Damian Lillard, the Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry and the Oklahoma City Thunder's Russell Westbrook are all on the schedule over the next two weeks.

Jose Calderon, who occasionally resembles a bullfighter on defense, would have his hands full with all of these explosive point guards if he could stay close enough to get a paw on them.

"For sure, it's an individual challenge," Calderon said. "You don't want to get beat there by anybody. You're going to play as hard as you can against great players in this league. I feel pretty comfortable. The team has been helping me a lot. This year, some days are going to be a tougher challenge. You feel better or worse. But at the end of the day, it's about team defense."

The Mavs were well aware of Calderon's defensive limitations when they signed him to a four-year, $29 million deal last summer. They considered his lack of lateral quickness a flaw they could live, considering it came in a package with his savvy offensive decision-making and elite perimeter shooting.

Calderon has been as billed for the Mavs, for better and worse. He ranks third in the league in 3-point percentage (44.9) and fourth in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.94-to-1). He also has the worst defensive rating (107.1) among guards on winning teams.

While Calderon is a plus overall, it will be especially difficult to mask his defensive flaws during this stretch, which started with Parker's 22-point, seven-rebound performance Sunday in the Spurs' win.

Lawson lit up the Mavs for an average of 19.5 points and 10 assists in two Denver wins in November. Curry has averaged 31 points and nine assists in two meetings with the Mavs. Lillard put up 23 points and 7.5 assists per in the Trail Blazers' two games against the Mavs. And Westbrook had 22 points and four assists in the Thunder's Nov. 6 win.

Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, recognizing that his starting lineup featured a few players not exactly known as defensive stoppers, has been preaching the importance of team defense since training camp. It will be especially important over the next couple of weeks as explosive point guards attempt to exploit a mismatch.

"We have to do it as a team," said Carlisle, whose other options to defend point guards include Devin Harris, Monta Ellis and small forward Shawn Marion. "We have to have multiple guys ready to guard guys like Lawson. There's going to have to be a lot of help. One-on-one, you're just not going to be able to do it."

It's impossible to defend a pick-and-roll -- the bread and butter of NBA offenses today -- one-on-one anyway. The on-ball defender has to do his part, but that doesn't matter if there's a breakdown elsewhere.

"With any great player, you can't just put one guy on him and say, 'That's your guy.' It's five guys," Dirk Nowitzki said. "As we know, the point guards these days are effective in pick-and-rolls. Not one point guard is just running a heavy dose of [isolations]. It's a lot of pick-and-rolls, so there's always four or five guys involved. The weak side has got to stunt and do all their things and their coverage.

"Our pick-and-roll coverage going down the stretch has got to be better than it was in San Antonio. Parker sliced us up pretty good. We've got to be a little better, a little crisper, a little sharper in our rotations."

Calderon will need all the help he can get.