Back when the Dallas Mavericks won the 2011 NBA title, they had some lockdown defenders on their roster in TysonKidd Chandler, Shawn Marion, DeShawn Stevenson and Jason Kidd.

So it came as no surprise that when Kidd took over as coach of the Mavs last summer, the first thing he set out to do was to shore up the team’s suspect defense. Kidd knew if the Mavs had any designs on adding another championship alongside the one they capture in ‘11, they needed to quickly develop some defensive grit and determination.

“Not just the 2010-’11 team, but just overall when you look at championship teams, they’ve got to play both sides of the ball,” Kidd said following Wednesday’s practice. “There’s never been a team that is just going to be strictly number one in offense and 25th in defense that’s going to win a championship. It just has never worked out.

“Being able to play both sides of the ball, if the ball’s not falling for you offensively, you have something to fall back on. And that’s defense, and this group really believes that.”

This group of Mavs were such staunch believers in Kidd’s defensive philosophy that they finished this season second in the NBA in fewest points allowed at 104.7 points per game. That’s the first time in the Mavs’ 42-year history they’ve finished a season better than fourth in fewest points allowed.

Also, the Mavs were finished seventh this season in defensive rating (109.1) after finishing 21st (112.3) just a year ago. And that was their best rating since finishing fifth (102.2) during the 2006-’07 season.

All of these gritty defensive performances is welcome news to forward Dorian Finney-Smith, who entered the NBA as an undrafted free agent Dorianin 2016 who specialized in defense. So how did Kidd convince the players that being a defensive juggernaut would lead to more success than anything they did on the offensive end of the court?

“Film (and) holding each other accountable,” Finney-Smith said. “And we kind of like showed our hands.

“We guarded great teams well, so once you set that standard we wanted to reach it every night.”

Finney-Smith said he could never personally talk his teammates into developing a nasty persona on the defensive end of the floor.

“But on the court I tried to be real loud,” he said. “It’s just that off the court I’m kind of quiet.”

In their 13 playoff games against the Los Angeles Clippers over the past two seasons, the Mavs gave up at least 100 points in all 13 games, at least 118 points in seven of those games, at least 121 points five times, and as much as 154 points during Game 5 of the 2019 playoffs. More importantly, while their defense failed them, the Mavs lost the series to the Clippers two years ago in six games and last year in seven games.

Finney-Smith is hoping with a much improved defensive swagger this season, the Mavs will be able to win their first-round playoff series against the Utah Jazz, which starts Saturday at noon at American Airlines Center.

“It gives us a good chance to win games in the playoffs,” Finney-Smith said, referring to a credible defense. “We never got out of the firstDorian round, and I think that’s because of (a lack of) defense.

“This year I think we’re ready to take that leap. Everybody took that challenge, including Luka (Doncic). I feel like Luka’s been one of the best defenders on the team too, because guys have been trying to (isolate) on him and he’s been doing his job.”

Kidd said he knew he could talk the offensive-minded Mavs into rolling up their sleeves and paying homage to the defensive end of the floor “or I wouldn’t have wasted my time starting off that way. I just believe that defense was something that we could improve on, and I wasn’t looking to be in the Top 10.

“Improvement from 25th or 26th to being 23rd or 20th is improvement. This was a big jump, these guys showed that they could do it and they had fun doing it. The other side is players are going to tell you what they like and dislike publicly and behind closed doors, and they talked about playing defense, and that’s pretty cool.”

In his first season coaching Milwaukee during the 2014-’15 campaign, Kidd saw the Bucks make a big jump on the defensive side of the court. So he already knew making huge strides on defense in one year was do-able.

Kidd“My first year in Milwaukee we were number two defensively with a team that only won 13 games with the same roster,” Kidd said. “But when you talk about one of the best offensive teams in the league (in last year’s Mavs), to go out and show that they can play defense at a high level — and also continue to score the ball at a rate that they did – it also shows that we’re making progress and we’re going in the right direction.”

After the Mas landed in the Top 5 in defensive ratings a few months ago, Kidd admits there was so slippage late in the season. But he knows the Mavs are back tied together on defense heading into the series opener against the Jazz.

“Just looking at being able to end plays — giving (opponents) second and third opportunities – that was something that we relaxed on,” Kidd said. “But I think the big thing is just sometimes during an 82-game season details will get overlooked a little bit and we relied on our offense, and our offense was playing at a very high level.

“But I really thought here of late, we started to get back to the details and finishing plays and helping one another on the defensive end.”

To illustrate just how far the Mavs have come defensively, last year they held 14 opponents under 100 points. This year they’ve accomplished that feat 27 times, and are 23-4 in those games.

As for whether he thought he would ever see the day the Mavs would become a defensive-oriented team, Finney-Smith said: “Naw, but I’m happy it’s now. Like I said, our offense is going to come, regardless. We’ve got great offensive guys, and coach, he runs good sets to get guys going and get the ball moving.

“All we’ve got to do is control the defensive end and the shots are going to go in.”

Finney-Smith said he can’t put a finger on why this year – and not last year or the year before last – the Mavs decided to start paying added attention to the defensive end of the floor.

“I just know as a team we’ve just been holding each other more accountable,” he said. “It’s not the coaches having to tell us things.Luka

“We’re telling each other in the midst of the game. I would think that would be the step we’ve been taking this year.”

UPDATE ON DONCIC: Coach Jason Kidd offered no update Wednesday or whether point guard Luka Doncic will be able to play in the playoff opener against the Utah Jazz.

“Same as yesterday,” Kidd said. “As you guys saw, he was riding the (stationary) bike.

“He’s in good spirits, so we’ll see how he feels tomorrow. Externally, he looks the same.”

Doncic strained his left calf late in the third quarter of Sunday’s game against the San Antonio Spurs, and there is no timetable for his return.

“It would be a game-time decision in a sense of how he feels, and medically,” Kidd said. “It doesn’t fall in my lap if a player plays or doesn’t play. That’s up to the player and the medical staff.”

If Doncic doesn’t play in Game 1, the lion’s share of the backcourt minutes will go to Spencer Dinwiddie and Jalen Brunson.

Maxi“Even if (Doncic) plays, there’s times when he’s not on the floor with those two and they have a job to do and we’re going to need them to do it at a high level no matter if he plays or not,” Kidd said. “But just like being sick, Covid, injury, when you’re told right before tipoff someone can’t go, late scratch, these are pros, so they’ll be ready no matter if Luka can go or not go.”

KLEBER BACK AT PRACTICE: Center/forward Maxi Kleber went through a full practice session Wednesday and said he felt “definitely 100 percent better.”

Kleber missed the last four games of the regular season – and the ensuing practice sessions — while recuperating from right ankle soreness he said started during the March 1 game against the Los Angeles Lakers. He also said when he frequently returned to the court, the soreness affected his shooting stroke.

“I don’t want to look for excuses,” Kleber said. “Obviously, I’m the type of person when my shot is not going well I’m going into the gym and I’m getting up as many reps as I can, but I was limited because I couldn’t shoot because it just flared up again. So, do I want to play or do I want to practice? I had to find a mix.

“I think I can affect the game in many other ways – not just shooting. Obviously, I want to make my shots, and I didn’t shoot the ball well this year. But I think I can still affect the game in many ways to help the team, but now I’ve just got to make shots.”

Twitter: @DwainPrice

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