After languishing near the bottom of the NBA pack on defense early in the season, the Dallas Mavericks have suddenly become a very respectful outfit at that end of the court lately.

And it’s become noticeable as the Mavs have been the type of lockdown defenders needed for a team in the midst of a tight playoff race.

“I think with us we’re surprising each other every practice, game, every step of the way,” guard Jalen Brunson said. “We keep continuing to make strides.”

The Mavs are currently tied for 10th in the NBA in field goal percentage allowed (45.9 percent), and 17th in 3-point shooting allowed (37 percent). Those numbers have drastically improved since early in the season.

Then again, the Mavs spent a large portion of training camp alternating their profile and instead concentrating on becoming a better defensive team. And that change appears to be paying off.

Meanwhile, the Mavs are coming off Wednesday’s 20-point victory – 128-108 – at Minnesota. That comes just one game after the Mavs went to Portland and handed the Trail Blazers their worst defeat at home ever – 132-92.

Other than that serious 51-point beatdown the Mavs handed the Los Angeles Clippers (124-73) on Dec. 27, these are the two widest margins of victory for Dallas this season. And their solid defense has been stepping up to help make these lopsided scores possible.

With their defense showing up loud and clear, 14 of the Mavs’ 23 victories this season have been by 10 or more points. The Mavs (23-19) will try and add to that total when they play host to the Indiana Pacers (20-23) on Friday at 7:30 p.m. at American Airlines Center.

“I don’t think we’re underrated (on defense), but I think we have the mindset that we need to get better every day,” Brunson said. “So as long as we continue to get better, that’s all you can hope for.”

Twitter: @DwainPrice

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