In 10 days, the Mavericks will play a game that counts in the standings.
For the players, it can’t get here fast enough.
For the coaching staff, plenty of work needs to be done before they take the floor against the Atlanta Hawks on Oct. 21.
Jason Kidd said that while he likes what he’s seen through the first half of training camp and the first two preseason games, exhibitions Wednesday at Charlotte and Friday at Milwaukee will provide good opportunities to hone the edge on a couple of important areas.
“Continue to carry over our deflections and steals – and also rebounding,” Kidd said Monday after a robust practice. “We’ve been doing a really good job with that, so we have to continue to be consistent in those areas if we want to be one of those top teams defensively.”
Improving on defense is not going to happen overnight. It’s hard to take roughly the same cast of key starters and suddenly expect them to be the next version of the Detroit Bad Boys.
But Kidd does want to see a better focus on the defensive end, and it starts with want-to.
If he sees that desire, then what’s a reasonable expectation for the Mavericks’ defense?
“We were at the bottom, right? Defensively?” he said. “So we want to be in the middle of the pack. But when you start setting standards, you got to first see what we have. To be able to answer that fairly, give me to around Christmas and then I can tell you.”
The Mavericks technically weren’t at the bottom defensively last year. They were 21st in overall defensive rating.
But in the playoffs, they were 13th of the 16 teams in field-goal percentage defense, a stat that did them in after taking a 2-0 lead over the Clippers in the first round.
But stressing the defensive end has been the priority so far in training camp and that’s not about to change.
Tim Hardaway Jr. is one of the players who the Mavericks hope will take on a bigger role on defense.
“I took a step in that direction since I’ve been here,” Hardaway said Monday. “I credit Mose (former Rick Carlisle assistant coach/defensive coordinator Jamahl Mosley) for that.
“He’s in Orlando now. But I credit him as well as that coaching staff to get to that level. And I think this coaching staff is going to help get me in a better mindset. With that being said, it’s all about wanting it.
The want-to-do-it is key.”
For Hardaway, that includes taking charges, something that he said was ingrained in him at Michigan under coach John Beilein.
“At Michigan, coach Beilein prided himself on doing the little things, and taking charges was one of them,” Hardaway said. “If you had an opportunity to take a charge in a game and you didn’t, then you had to re-enact that play in practice in front of the whole team and then take the charge in front of the whole team. I think that carried over, having that instilled in my head.”
Of course, making a defensive stand doesn’t amount to much if you don’t get the rebound after an opponent’s missed shot. Kidd has been impressed with the Mavericks’ rebounding through two preseason games.
Admittedly, it’s a small and perhaps traitorous sample size, but the Mavericks have been beasts, averaging 17.5 rebounds more than their opponents (Utah and the LA Clippers).
It won’t always be that good, of course. The Mavericks won’t always see Utah without Rudy Gobert or the Clippers without Ivica Zubac, their top rebounders, respectively.
But it’s still a nice foundation to pour in the preseason.
“When we talk about defense, we talk about finishing plays,” Kidd said. “And (against the Clippers), there was a lot of great examples of us being in the right position, being aggressive and making them take a contested two or three and then finishing with the rebound.
“A lot of times, you can play really good defense and you give up an offensive rebound and they kick it out for a wide-open three. I think there were six offensive rebounds (against the Clippers) and that was better than the Utah game.”
The Mavericks were only fair in the rebounding department last season, getting beat by less than a board per game, on average.
Kidd said that it’s likely that one of the last two preseason games will be the Mavericks’ dress rehearsal in which minutes for the key rotation players will be similar to what they can expect when the regular season begins.
That probably will happen against the Hornets on Wednesday.
But regardless, the Mavericks will continue to harp on two things, Hardaway said.
“Being accountable and communicate,” he said. “If we can stay locked in with those two things, everything else will take care of itself.”