For many years, critics called this team the “Allas” Mavericks because they played no “D.” Well, if that’s the case, this team has all of a sudden become the DDDDDDallas Mavericks.
Going back to Feb. 5, the day the Mavs beat the Kings on the road 101-78, Dallas boasts the No. 1 defense in the NBA. Their 93.8 defensive rating is tops in the league, and during that stretch the club has won six of its eight games, with wins against Portland, Houston, and Toronto.
It’s difficult to find just one thing to attribute the team’s defensive success to. One particular player hasn’t experienced a huge increase in minutes during that stretch — not even Al-Farouq Aminu, who along with Tyson Chandler has played terrific defense all season long. Rajon Rondo even missed some of those eight games, and his defense has been among the best in the league since joining the Mavericks.
This might seem cliché, but sometimes huge improvements can come from just looking at things as simply as possible.
“We’re trying to be tough, trying to rotate for each other,” Dirk Nowitzki said after the 99-92 win against Toronto, the No. 4 offense in the NBA this season in offensive efficiency. “Our gameplan has been there and we’ve been executing them.”
“We’ve been getting better and better,” Devin Harris added. “We continue to talk. Guys are getting comfortable with one another. We’re trusting one another, and it’s good to see.”
Generally speaking, you know things are going well defensively when players keep their quotes about D as brief as possible. Longer explanations mean things are going wrong. After holding one of the best offenses in the NBA to just 92 points, Harris and Dirk didn’t have to say much. The Mavs’ work spoke louder than chalk talk could. So do stats, and the Mavs have been doing just fine in that department in their last eight games, improving across the board when it comes not only to getting stops, but converting opponents’ mistakes into points the other way.
In addition to forcing opponents into misses, Dallas has also capitalized more on turnovers in the last eight games. Against the Raptors, for example, the Mavs converted 19 Toronto turnovers into 28 points. Not only do those cheap points come easy, but they can also deflate the opponent and shift the momentum. Dallas trailed by as many as 11 points in the second half of the game but came back behind some quick, easy offense.
“With any team, we want to keep the pace as fast as we can,” Harris said. “I think we’re better at that, when we stay in transition, less play-calling. We’re a lot harder to guard that way.”
As Dallas continues to work Rondo and newest acquisition Amar’e Stoudemire into the flow of the offense — as well as fighting through an injury to starting small forward Chandler Parsons — the most effective way to generate offense is by going defense-to-offense, meaning turning stops into quick chances the other way.
For example, after Greivis Vasquez hit a three-pointer to make the score 86-84 Dallas with 8:18 left in last night’s game, the Mavs D forced turnovers on four of Toronto’s next six possessions, converting those extra opportunities into seven points. During that stretch, the Raptors managed to score just one point, and by the time they regained their footing Dallas had extended its lead to 95-85.
“That’s how you win ballgames down the stretch,” Stoudemire said of the Mavs defense in the fourth quarter against Toronto, a frame in which Dallas allowed just 15 points. “You’ve got to get stops. With our personnel, we can score with any team in this league. Once we get stops, we’ll be a tough team to beat.”
Perhaps the most impressive thing about the Mavs’ stout defense the last few weeks has been the consistency with which they’ve defended no matter who’s on the floor. Each of the five heaviest lineups in terms of minutes per game during this eight-game stretch has held opponents to poor shooting numbers while also forcing a high number of turnovers.
Most good teams have a go-to defensive lineup, but the Mavs have performed so well on that end of the floor regardless of lineup combination that it speaks to something happening bigger than simply personnel. Defense has suddenly become this team’s strength, its focal point, and also the easiest means to an effective, explosive offense. It’s tough to argue with the results so far, and if the Mavs can maintain this level of dedication, intensity, and effectiveness on the defensive end, some special things could happen.