What coach Jason Kidd has noticed about his team is that they’re having a good ‘ol time when it comes to playing defense. And Kidd himself is loving it, too.
“I think they are having fun,” Kidd said after Monday’s practice. “It’s alright to play defense in this league – if you want to win championships.”
And the Mavs definitely want to win championships. That’s why when Kidd became the Mavs’ coach last summer, he knew he had to change them from being a team that was setting records on the offensive end of the court into a team that was more fundamentally sound on defense.
“If you talk to the teams that have won championships, they all will talk about defense — if you want to win a championship.,” Kidd said. “If you want to just be good and have a good season, then you’re going to play offense and offense only.”
Everyone from superstar point guard Luka Doncic to the last player on the bench has bought into Kidd’s defensive principles. The players know they can go get buckets at a moment’s notice. But the key to raising that championship trophy — they’ve come to realize — is stopping the other team from getting buckets at a moment’s notice.
Last year the Mavs were 21st in the NBA in defensive ratings. This year they’re seventh, and have spent a considerable amount of time in the top five.
Plus, they’re second in the league in the fewest points allowed (104.8), and they’re chomping at the bit to go out and get stops on the defensive end of the floor.
“When you look at those guys, they are having fun and they’re coaching each other,” Kidd said. “And they all know when they’ve made a mistake (on defense), and they correct it.”
When he was the Mavs’ starting point guard during their 2011 championship season, Kidd knows playing stout defense was at the backbone of that championship arriving in North Texas. In the second round of the playoffs that year, the Mavs had to go through Kobe Bryant and the two-time defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers.
In the Western Conference Finals, the Mavs squared off against Kevin Durant, James Harden, Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder. And in the NBA Finals series that Miami was extremely heavily favored to win, the Mavs went up against LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Heat.
The Mavs wound up sweeping the Lakers in four games, defeating the Thunder in five games, and rallying from a 2-1 deficit to dethrone the Heat in six games. And it was their frenetic defense that carried the day in all three of those series.
“Some of us can only play defense, so we had no choice,” Kidd said. “You’ve got to play defense if you want to win a championship.
“Again, because everybody is going to look to your best player to score, the role players have to do something to participate. If you truly believe you can get stops, it just helps takes the pressure off of your offense. Also, if your star player, if he doesn’t have a 35-point night, if he has a 24-point night can you still win those games?”
This season, the Mavs truly believe they can win games if Luka Doncic has an off night. And they’ve proven it time and time again.
When told that Texas Tech coach Mark Adams has a jar of candy in his office for players to ramble through when they talk defense with him, Kidd said: “At this level there’s no candy. There’s just responsibility.
“Actually, accountability. So we use that on both sides of the ball – offense and defense. We use accountability, and those guys truly believe in that.”
In other words, the Mavs believe establishing a defensive culture is their prime-time ticket to winning another NBA championship.
A 50-WIN SEASON: The Mavs are on the verge of winning 50 games for just the second time since they where 57-25 during their 2011 championship season, and for the only time since they were 50-32 during the 2014-’15 campaign.
Mark Cuban’s team will carry a 49-30 record into Wednesday night’s game in Detroit. However, coach Jason Kidd said he and his players are more concerned with possibly securing a higher seed in the Western Conference playoffs than with simply winning 50 games.
“I don’t know if we’ve talked about 50 (games),” Kidd said. “We’ve talked about trying to get the highest seed, and that means you have to win games.”
The Mavs have had 14 seasons where they won at least 50 games in their history, including a string of 11 consecutive seasons from the 2000-’01 through the ’10-’11 seasons where they won at least 50 games. Also, the Mavs were 60-22 in each of the ’02-‘03 and ’05-‘06 seasons, and posted a franchise record 67-15 worksheet during the ’06-’07 season.
In addition to the game against Detroit, the Mavs have home games remaining against Portland on Friday and San Antonio on Sunday.
“We have three games left,” Kidd said. “And we have to find a way to just focus on Detroit and find a way to end our road season on a high.”
KIDD ON KANSAS/NORTH CAROLINA: Coach Jason Kidd had some allegiance on both sides of Monday’s NCAA men’s championship game.
On one side, Kansas assistant coach Kurtis Townsend was an assistant coach for the University of California during the 1993-’94 when Kidd was playing for the Golden Bears. On the other side, North Carolina coach Hubert Davis and Kidd were teammates with the New Jersey Nets in 2004.
Kansas overcame a 16-point deficit and defeated North Carolina, 72-69, in the championship game.
“What a great college game,” Kidd said. “The swings were pretty big, but I think for college, everybody enjoyed it.
“Unfortunately, it’s only one winner. Kansas won. One of my college coaches is on that staff, so I was happy to see Kurtis Townsend get a championship.”
DONCIC FOR MVP: Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid, Denver’s Nikola Jokic and Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo are the names mostly mentioned who the so-called experts insist will win this year’s Most Valuable Player award.
But the Mavs want to know: What about Luka Doncic?
Currently, Doncic is fourth in the league in scoring (28.3), fifth in assists (8.7), 20th in rebounding (9.1), and tied for sixth in triple-doubles (10).
“I think his stats speak for themselves,” coach Jason Kidd said of Doncic. “What he’s done, if you finish four or three (in the Western Conference as a team), that’s pretty special, too.”
While Kidd said “it’ll be interesting to see how the (MVP) vote” are tabulated, he added that Doncic may be a victim of his own success in the eyes of the voters.
“I think sometimes we get bored seeing someone do what Luka has done,” Kidd said. “Sometimes you take it for granted because that’s just the norm. And sometimes the norm is pretty special.”
A THREE SEED OR FOUR SEED: The Mavs (49-30) are currently seeded fourth in the West. But they have a chance to past the Golden State Warriors (50-29) for the No. 3 seed.
If the Mavs run the table and win their remaining three games against Detroit, Portland and San Antonio, they will claim the No. 3 seed if the Warriors lose one of their remaining three games. The Warriors host the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday, and will also play at San Antonio on Saturday and at New Orleans on Sunday – three games in four days.
Also, if the Warriors go 1-2 the rest of the way and Dallas goes 2-1, the Mavs will earn the No. 3 seed, because Dallas won the season series over Golden State, 3-1.
Asked if he would rather have a higher seed or go into the playoffs playing superior basketball, Kidd said: “We’ll just play our best basketball.
“No matter who you play (in the playoffs) it’s going to be a tough opponent – three or four. You just hope that you play well enough to get homecourt, and then you play from there.”
As far as the Detroit game is concerned, Kidd said: “We’re going to treat this as a real game. It is a real game and we’re going to try to win it.”
BRIEFLY: Before hosting the Mavs this past Sunday afternoon, Milwaukee superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo was in a serious groove. The NBA’s Most Valuable Player in 2019 and ’20, Antetokounmpo clocked Joel Embiid, James Harden and Philadelphia for 40 points, 14 assists and six assists during a 118-116 win over the 76ers on March 29. And last Thursday, he finished with 44 points, 14 rebounds and six assists during a 120-119 win in overtime against Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets. But when it came to the Mavs, Antetokounmpo was held to 28 points, 10 boards and two assists on his own court as Dallas got out of town with a 118-112 victory. “We just got lucky,” coach Jason Kidd said. “We tried to throw as many bodies (at Antetokounmpo) as we could — make it tough. It’s a make or miss league, and he missed some shots, and it happens. He’s still one of the best players in the world.”. .Kidd said when he was an assistant coach under Los Angeles Lakers coach Frank Vogel from 2019-’21, he was able to see things differently than when he was a head coach in Brooklyn and Milwaukee. “As an assistant coach you don’t have to talk to the media, you don’t have to do a lot of things,” Kidd said. “You can better your craft.” And that’s exactly what Kidd did, adding that he was able to enhance his coaching skills under Vogel. “Frank, to learn from, was great,” Kidd said. “He’s always in a good mood. He competes to win. He communicates not just with the stars, but with everybody. I learned a lot in those two years under him. I still continue to talk to him and will continue to keep learning from him.”. .Sterling Brown and Trey Burke were back at practice Tuesday after missing recent games while in the health and safety protocols. Also practicing Tuesday was guard Theo Pinson, who has missed 22 games since Feb. 15 while recovering from a fractured fifth right finger. . .Maxi Kleber will miss the Detroit game with right ankle soreness.
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