Commentary

Carlisle brings out best in his roster

For Mavs coach, it's always about the team and never one player's agenda

Updated: April 15, 2014, 12:30 AM ET
By Jean-Jacques Taylor | ESPNDallas.com

Rick Carlisle is one of the NBA's best coaches. The job he did this season simply gave us one one more example of why he's so good.

He took a team that plays poor defense, struggles to rebound and has only two reliable scorers -- Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis -- and guided them to 49 wins and a playoff spot in basketball's most difficult conference.

[+] EnlargeRick Carlisle
AP Photo/LM OteroWith Rick Carlisle, it's not unheard of for players to go from inactive to playing more than 20 minutes depending on the matchup.

You saw the best of Carlisle in the Mavs' 101-98 win over Phoenix on Saturday night, which propelled Dallas into the playoffs.

You saw it in Ellis' 37-point performance. And Brandan Wright's double-double. You even saw it in Shane Larkin's cameo appearance and Jose Calderon's extended minutes on the bench.

Don't think it's a coincidence that Ellis had one of the most efficient seasons of his career during his first year with the Mavs.

Whether it was O.J. Mayo last season or Ellis this season, Carlisle has a great feel for getting players to buy into his core beliefs. He persuades them to sacrifice the selfish elements of their game for the benefit of the team.

In the process, the player will still get his numbers but the team -- not just the individual -- benefits.

Ellis isn't perfect. Who is? Obviously, he developed some bad habits with Golden State and Milwaukee, where his job was to score no matter how many shots he took.

That's not the case in Dallas, and he adjusted without complaint. Winning does that.

Ellis averaged 19.0 points on 15.5 shots per game.

His performance against Phoenix was beautifully efficient. He made 15 of 23 shots with five assists, four rebounds and two steals.

Carlisle has also figured out how to maximize Wright's talents this year. It happened because Carlisle is a creative thinker.

How else to explain getting 48 minutes a night at center from Wright, Samuel Dalembert and DeJuan Blair?

Carlisle's daily mantra to every player not named Dirk, Ellis, Vince Carter or Shawn Marion is "stay ready" because you never when your opportunity will arrive.

Carlisle is not wedded to lineups, and it's not unheard of for players to go from inactive to playing more than 20 minutes, depending on the matchup. That's what happened against Phoenix.

Blair and Wright are players who infuse the team with energy, when they're playing well. Blair does it with relentless hustle, while Wright does it with spectacular dunks.

Phoenix plays such an up-tempo game that Blair would've struggled with the tempo, so he didn't play. Dalembert is more athletic, but the Suns use a small lineup built for run-and-gun basketball, limiting the 7-footer to 14 minutes.

[+] EnlargeMonta Ellis
Glenn James/NBAE via Getty ImagesMonta Ellis adjusted his style of play under Rick Carlisle, and it resulted in one of the guard's most efficient seasons of his career.

The game was built for Wright, who scored 12 points and recorded a season-high 11 rebounds. And with 20 seconds left, Carlisle inserted Wright for defensive purposes.

The move quickly paid off. With 12 seconds left, he blocked Eric Bledsoe's layup with 12 seconds left to clinch the win.

Calderon has been among the league's best 3-point shooters all season, but he's a sub-par defensive player. He would've struggled against Phoenix's lineup, so Carlisle spent much of the game with Devin Harris at point guard and Ellis at shooting guard.

Why? Because with Carlisle it's always about the team -- never one player's agenda. Carlisle communicates these messages and the player must accept it because complaining does no good.

In the first quarter, Carlisle gave Larkin a rare chance to play with the outcome still in doubt. It's because Larkin's best game occurred against Phoenix earlier in the season, when he scored a season-high 18 points.

Of course Larkin hit a 3 as time expired giving the Mavs their first lead, 27-26.

If the Mavs beat Memphis on Wednesday, Carlisle will reach 50 wins for the seventh time, including the fourth with the Mavs. He did it twice with Detroit and once with Indiana.

No coach flukes his way to that much success.

The best thing about the job Carlisle does is you always feel like he squeezed everything he could from the roster, whether the Mavs win a title like they did in in 2011 or get swept in the first round, which is what happened in 2012.

That's all you can ever ask from a coach.

Jean-Jacques Taylor joined ESPNDallas.com in August 2011. A native of Dallas, Taylor spent the past 20 years writing for The Dallas Morning News, where he covered high schools sports, the Texas Rangers and spent 11 seasons covering the Dallas Cowboys before becoming a general columnist in 2006.

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