If you haven’t heard, the Mavericks have been playing some pretty good defense lately.
Dallas has allowed fewer than 90 points in five straight games, the second-longest streak in franchise history. Should the club do it again tonight in a key matchup against division rival Memphis, it would tie the franchise record. Only two other teams have given up fewer than 90 in six straight or more since the end of the 2012-13 season, according to Basketball-Reference.
In other words, the Mavs have been in extremely rare form on that end of the floor.
The stretch is due to a combination of a shift in philosophy and simply a renewed commitment to competing on that end of the floor. Rick Carlisle challenged his team after the Mavs allowed 133 points in a March 27 loss at Sacramento, the club’s 10th in 12 games. Needless to say, the team responded.
“We had a horrible game (against Sacramento),” Carlisle said after Wednesday’s win against Houston. “I flipped out about it because we weren’t going hard enough and we made some changes. What we’re doing is not a panacea or any kind of secret thing. This is hard-nosed basketball. Right now, this is our plan for success.”
While it’s true that there really is no magical cure-all for defense — the same goes for the other side of the ball — the Mavs’ performance lately could make you think otherwise. The only major roster and rotation changes Dallas made were in response to Chandler Parsons and Deron Williams missing significant time with a torn meniscus and sports hernia, respectively. In their stead, Justin Anderson and reigning Western Conference Player of the Week J.J. Barea have performed as well as anyone could have hoped, and even better.
Just how well have the Mavericks played on the defensive side of the ball? They have improved in five of the most important statistical areas when it comes to judging a defense: field goal percentage allowed at the rim, and the Four Factors. (The Four Factors are effective field goal percentage, free throw rate, turnover ratio, and offensive rebound percentage.) For an explanation of what those stats measure, click here.
|Opp. FG% < 5 ft||Opp. eFG%||Opp. FTr||Opp. TO Ratio||Opp. ORB%|
These numbers show that opponents are shooting worse and rebounding their own misses less often, plus they’re turning the ball over more. It should also be noted that opponents are attempting nearly four fewer shots per game inside five feet, and the leap in turnover ratio adds up to 4.4 more turnovers per game, despite a significant drop in pace. All of this means very, very good things for the Mavericks.
Who deserves the credit? That’s hard to say. The perimeter defenders, particularly Wesley Matthews, have really stepped it up. Devin Harris’ constant ball-swiping has resulted in plenty of steals. Justin Anderson and Salah Mejri are viciously blocking shots with no regard for human life. Heck, even Dirk Nowitzki stripped James Harden with less than 10 seconds left in Wednesday’s win. And that’s just to name a few players.
They key now is to continue this defensive run for as long as possible, and that starts tonight with the Grizzlies, who have been shorthanded for much of the season and are without stars Marc Gasol and Mike Conley. Still, Memphis has been able to remain in the playoff picture and clinched a postseason berth last night as Houston lost to Phoenix. The Grizzlies currently sit two games ahead of the Mavericks in the standings, and a win would not only cut that lead in half but also give the Mavericks the season series advantage at 3-1, clinching the tiebreaker. Clearly there’s a lot on the line tonight.
The defense deserves all the credit for getting the Mavericks to this point, though. After the loss to Sacramento, Dallas fell to 35-38 and sat in ninth place in the West. But the team’s radical tempo shift and commitment to getting stops has seemingly altered the course of the entire season, and now Dallas’ magic number to clinch a playoff spot is just 2. (Two wins or two Houston losses, or one and one, will clinch a berth for the Mavericks.) Dallas has shown it will do anything necessary to accomplish its goal, even if that means becoming a completely different team with less than a dozen games to go.
“We want to play in the postseason,” Matthews said. “We’re not going home early. We’ve fought too hard this year. We’ve come from too much adversity, and battled through too many games, that we’re not ready for our season to be done.”