Mavs say key to an early-season turnaround is at defensive end

Practice Report: Dirk Nowitzki

Mavs F Dirk Nowitzki says he's feeling better and looks forward to playing tomorrow night against the Jazz.

DALLAS — Beginning the season playing two of the first three games minus their leading scorer from last year, the Dallas Mavericks hope that they can draw inspiration from the possible return of 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki to the lineup when they step back on the court Wednesday night in Utah.

Forced to miss time due to an illness, Nowitzki sat out the team’s home opener last Friday night against Houston for the first time since the 2012-13 season. Nowitzki was then a late scratch Sunday in Houston as the home-and-home series wrapped up, despite going through the team’s morning shootaround. And although the Mavericks (0-3) have gotten off to a sluggish start to the season, coach Rick Carlisle fully expects the team to turn things around once Nowitzki is back to 100 percent.

“We’re up against it right now in a lot of ways, but no one is backing down from their will to compete,” Carlisle confessed after the Mavs’ heartbreaking 93-92 loss Sunday in Houston. “We’ve just got to stay the course with this and just keep making small corrections. We’ve just got to find a way.”

Unable to make up for Nowitzki’s offensive production during their last two games, the Mavericks have compounded matters with lackluster defensive performances. That said, the Mavs know they must be better at the defensive end of the floor with or without Nowitzki in the lineup on Wednesday.

Sunday, the Mavericks trailed 63-53 at the end of the first half, entering the intermission allowing the Rockets to connect on 55.6 percent shooting through two quarters. Houston also held a 22-18 rebounding edge and 32-24 advantage in the paint, taking advantage of the Dallas defense in the interior. The Rockets then finished the game just slightly outshooting the Mavs, 42.5 percent to 38.1 percent, adding a 46-42 rebounding edge to overcome their 17 turnovers. But although the Mavs eventually made several successful adjustments in the second half, they also know that the start defensively put them in an uphill climb.

“They scored 63 in the first half, so we definitely did a lot better job in the second half of mixing it up and making things hard on them,” point guard Deron Williams admitted while critiquing the team’s first-half play.

He added: “We can’t start games like that. We can’t allow 63 points in a half and put ourselves in a position where we’re fighting an uphill battle all the time. It’s definitely great that we figured some things out, but we’ve got to turn around and apply that next game.”

Through three games, the Mavericks rank 23rd in the league while allowing 109.7 points per outing and 46.9 percent shooting. The Mavs are also tied for 22nd in the league in the rebounding department, pulling down 41.7 boards per game. Those numbers must change, according to swingman Wesley Matthews, if the team is going to get on track Wednesday night against a 1-2 Utah Jazz team. And after finding some success in the second half against the Rockets, the Mavericks will try to carry that momentum forward.

“You know, our margin for error is slim like most NBA teams,” Matthews explained. “We’re not the Golden State Warriors. We’re not the Cleveland Cavaliers. We’re not the [San Antonio Spurs], but we’re a (darn) good team. We’ve just got to minimize the stuff that we can control — end-of-quarter situations, over rotating, over helping. You know, continue to play scouting reports.”

Note: The Mavericks will now travel to Salt Lake City for Wednesday’s battle against the upstart Utah Jazz. The game will tip off at 8 p.m. CT, airing locally on Fox Sports Southwest and 103.3 FM ESPN.

The Mavs return to American Airlines Center on Friday night, hosting the Portland Trail Blazers. The game will tip off at 7:30 p.m. CT, airing locally on Fox Sports Southwest and 103.3 FM ESPN. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by visiting Mavs.com, or by calling (214) 747-MAVS.

Injury updates:

Devin Harris (right great toe sprain) — out

Dirk Nowitzki (illness) — questionable

Dwight Powell’s play in preseason could foreshadow breakout ’16-17 campaign

DALLAS — If the preseason is any indication of how effective he’ll be this upcoming season, then third-year big man Dwight Powell appears headed for a breakout 2016-17 campaign for the Dallas Mavericks.

Making two starts during his 69 appearances last season, the 25-year-old Powell averaged 5.8 points and 4.0 rebounds in 14.4 minutes a game. He then increased his production during the Mavericks’ first-round playoff series against Oklahoma City, posting 6.0 points and 4.3 boards an outing while appearing in four of the five games. Now, after signing a reported four-year deal worth $37 million this summer to return to the Mavs during free agency, the 6-foot-11 big man hopes to unleash his full potential on the rest of the league this season.

“Just really doing whatever I can to help us win,” Powell modestly said after the Mavericks’ 114-109 victory Tuesday over Oklahoma City. “I’m being more active on defense, trying to disrupt things and just be a spark plug off the bench.

“I’ve worked on my shot, handling the ball, and defensively I’ve just continued to evolve, concentrating on position defense and being able to help out weak side. Just continuing to try to help our team win however I can.”

Scoring nine points, grabbing seven rebounds, dishing an assist and collecting two steals in the Mavericks’ 116-102 loss against New Orleans during the preseason opener on Oct. 1, Powell showed glimpses of how much he can impact the game in 19 minutes of work. He followed that up with eight points, three boards, two assists and a block two nights later, helping to lead the Mavs to a 95-88 victory at home over Charlotte. However, Powell has made even more of an impact during the team’s last two exhibition outings while showcasing his all-around skills.

Clocking 24 minutes against Milwaukee last Saturday night during an 88-74 road defeat, Powell scored a team-best 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting in a losing effort, securing seven rebounds and recording a steal to boot. He replicated that performance Tuesday night against the Thunder’s physical front line by scoring 16 points, grabbing seven boards and collecting a steal in just 19 minutes. More importantly, according to Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, the energetic Powell played without finding himself in foul trouble. And while seeing time at both the center and power forward positions this preseason, Powell showed his value to the team.

“Well, he’s always been aggressive going for rebounds, but what he’s doing better this year is playing without fouling,” Carlisle said while praising Powell’s play this preseason. “It’s going to be so important, because he’s a physical player. He’s athletic, he has length, but he’s got to be able stay on the floor.”

Powell, a former Stanford standout, was originally drafted by Charlotte with the 45th overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, but he quickly had his rights traded along with former Mav Brendan Haywood to Cleveland in exchange for Scotty Hopson and cash considerations. He was then dealt again to Boston along with Malcolm Thomas, Erik Murphy, John Lucas III, two future second-round picks and a trade exception in exchange for Keith Bogans and two future second-round picks. Powell made one more stop during his rookie season after that, heading to Dallas along with four-time All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo on Dec. 18, 2014, in a deal that sent Jae Crowder, Brandan Wright, Jameer Nelson, a 2015 first-round pick and a 2016 second-round pick back to the Celtics. Now, after finding a home with the Mavericks, Powell says he hopes to make an impact on a nightly basis simply by being active on the court.

“I’m trying to just be active and give us as many opportunities as I can, especially on offense. I try to crash and mess things up,” Powell explained. “I mean, to be honest, [the preseason] has really been a learning experience. I think defensively I can improve a lot, and there’s a lot of tape that I can sit down and analyze about positioning, especially in the post. And I can develop from there.”

Note: The Mavericks will now travel to Phoenix for their fifth preseason matchup on Friday night. The game will tip off at 9 p.m. CT, airing locally on 103.3 FM ESPN.

The Mavs return home to host the Houston Rockets at American Airlines Center next Wednesday night. The game will tip off at 7:30 p.m. CT, airing locally on TXA 21 and 103.3 FM ESPN. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by visiting Mavs.com, or by calling (214) 747-MAVS.

Injury updates:

Salah Mejri (right knee surgery) — out

Quincy Acy (right foot injury) — out

Wesley Matthews (rest) — out

Seth Curry (rest) — out

Mavs hope to establish defense-first mentality early in training camp, Rick Carlisle says

Bedgear Training Camp Practice Report: Rick Carlisle

Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle addresses the media after the team's first practice of training camp.

DALLAS — After finding success at the defensive end of the floor to close the 2015-16 schedule, the Dallas Mavericks could once again be reliant on that side of the ball this upcoming season.

Last season, the Mavericks ranked 14th in the NBA while allowing 102.6 points per game. The Dallas squad also finished the season with just a 104.3 defensive rating, which ranked 16th in in the league. However, the Mavs played their best defense during the final nine games to reach the playoffs for a 15th time in the last 16 years. And with a heavy focus on defense during the first day of training camp presented by Bedgear, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle hopes his team can replicate that success this season.

“A lot of defense today,” Carlisle said Tuesday after the team’s first practice. “Defense was the priority. We did a little bit of offensive stuff, but we got a good start on defensive stuff and philosophical stuff, so it’s a good start.”

Falling three games below .500 following a 133-111 loss in Sacramento on March 27, Carlisle led the Mavericks to six straight victories from March 28 to April 8 and wins in seven of the final nine games to finish the ’15-16 season with a 42-40 record and the sixth seed in the Western Conference. Carlisle now could look to once again utilize that formula this season after his decision to play at a slower offensive tempo led to plenty of defensive success.

Holding opponents to 88.6 points on 43.8 percent shooting during that final nine-game stretch, the Mavericks could have their blueprint for this season. The coach also says that the Mavs will have more versatility on defense with the addition of 6-foot-8 forward Harrison Barnes, pairing him with swingman Wesley Matthews on the perimeter. That said, Carlisle believes the Mavericks will have the option of playing at different speeds in order to see more success on both ends of the court.

“Barnes and Matthews give us two high-level perimeter defenders at the two and three. And then when we bump Barnes to four, he can guard fours and Wes can guard threes. It just gives us more flexibility, more versatility, and I think it’s going to give us an opportunity to do some more things with switching and things like that,” Carlisle explained.

He added: “I don’t know that it’s going to be an absolute at this moment, but as we go along we’ll have a package of things that will allow us to play out of a more low-to-mid pace. You know, during the last nine games we were No. 3 in the league in defense, and a lot of that had to do with we were playing at a different pace offensively, so we’ll see. The truth is we’re going to be a multiple-style, multiple-pace team most likely.”

Mavs see defense, versatility as their calling cards during ’16-17 season

DALLAS — Before stepping onto the court for the first time as a team Tuesday to begin training camp presented by Bedgear, the Dallas Mavericks kicked off the start of the 2016-17 season by meeting with members of the press Monday at the organization’s annual Media Day.

Hoping to build on last season’s 42-40 record and the sixth seed in the Western Conference, the Mavericks retooled this summer to return to prominence. The Mavs also saw an influx of young talent, looking to build chemistry on the fly with at least seven new players. And while hoping to make amends for last season’s shortcomings, the Mavs will try to establish defense as their calling card.

“It’s obviously good to be back,” 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki proclaimed Monday while meeting with the Dallas media for the first time this season. “It’s been a long time and the end of April since my last game. I stayed fit all summer long, had a great summer traveling with the kids and it was good, but I’m definitely ready to get this started again. I’ve been here basically the last two weeks and working out with the guys, and almost everybody was in. It’s a really fun group to be around, and everybody has been working their tails off. Some guys even in the morning and at night are coming in ready, so I think we all should be in good shape and ready to go here from Day 1. And hopefully we can build this thing up, getting better from day to day, because camp is going to fly by. The season is going to start earlier, we’ve got six or seven preseason games, and it’s going to fly by. We’ve got to be ready for hopefully a good season.

“We should be able to have a great defensive lineup once I’m out with just length and athletes. You know, nowadays, it’s a lot of switching lineups, so I think we have a lineup out there that could be really, really good. And obviously, youth and athleticism is a big part.”

Integrating two key members of the Golden State Warriors’ 2015 title team and last season’s 73-win squad, the Mavericks expect to see dramatic improvements across the board on the defensive end. That said, the Mavs also know they’ll have to translate the added defensive prowess to the court, hoping that the additions of forward Harrison Barnes and center Andrew Bogut lead to better statistical success.

Last season, the Mavericks allowed 102.6 points per game to rank 14th in the league. The Dallas squad also finished the season with just a 104.3 defensive rating to rank 16th in that department, forcing the front office to address the defensive deficiencies this offseason. Still, while expecting Bogut — a former All-Defensive Team selection — and Barnes — a versatile defender on the wings — to be significant upgrades, swingman Wesley Matthews knows the Mavs have plenty of work to do in order to improve those numbers.

“On paper, we’re already better, but paper doesn’t really mean anything,” Matthews explained. “By their resumes and their track records, I’m confident that we’re going to be a better defensive team. But we’re still going to have to put the work in, and that’s got to be everybody — one through 15. But we’re in a good position, and we have the foundation to be a really good defensive team.”

Acquiring Bogut, an 11-year veteran, from Golden State via a trade back in July, the Mavericks added an above-average rim protector for his career. He’s now expected to anchor the Dallas front line, joining forces with Nowitzki to provide the Mavs with twin towers inside.

Bogut holds career averages of 10.3 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.6 blocks in 644 games, making 630 starts during his stints with Milwaukee and Golden State. He garnered All-NBA Third Team honors with the Bucks during the ’09-10 season as well, earning a spot on the All-Defensive Second Team with the Warriors on their way to the title in 2015. But after seeing a dip in his production last season to a career-low 5.4 points and 7.0 rebounds in 70 games, Bogut comes to Dallas with a chip on his shoulder to show that he can be the force he proved to be this summer with the Australian national team during the Rio Olympic Games.

“I think just bringing a paint presence defensively will be key for us,” Bogut explained after averaging 9.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.6 assists in seven games to lead Australia to a fourth-place finish in the Olympics. “You know, just making sure that when guys come in that paint, especially early in games, I’m either contesting the shot, blocking the shot, taking a charge or fouling somebody. You know, I think the tone that I’ve set on previous teams, especially early in games, was exactly that. If teams get in the paint early, they feel good about themselves, and then so on down the line. So, that’s something I look to do. And then on the offensive end taking on a little more responsibility than I had in Golden State, being as aggressive as I was in the Olympics with the national team.”

Barnes is also ready to take on more responsibility after showing glimpses of stardom during his first four seasons in the league with the Warriors.

Last season, Barnes averaged a career-high 11.7 points to go along with 4.9 rebounds a game. He also shouldered plenty of the perimeter defensive duties, hoping to join forces with Matthews to help the Mavericks in that area this season. But after signing a reported four-year deal worth $94 million, Barnes admits that his overall effectiveness will be measured by the team’s win-loss record. And to that point, the 6-foot-8 forward is ready to help the team advance further this season following four first-round playoff exits in five years.

“You know, I’m really excited for this season. It’s going to be bigger expectations and I’m going to have a larger role on this team, but the biggest thing I’ve learned in my four years of being in this league is winning is the biggest priority,” Barnes said. “I’m trying to do whatever I can to help this team win, and I feel like we have a lot of pieces this year that are either coming back off injury or guys that feel like they have a lot to prove. There’s a lot of new additions, so hopefully we can all come together and do something special.”

Rick Carlisle looks forward to leading Mavs’ cast of new characters, possible style change

DALLAS — After making a late-season change to his team’s style of play in order to push the Dallas Mavericks into the playoffs for a 15th time in the last 16 seasons, coach Rick Carlisle says it’s unclear how a new-look roster will best be utilized during the upcoming schedule.

In are new additions Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut, Seth Curry, Quincy Acy and a bevy of other summer signings. Out are versatile forward Chandler Parsons, center Zaza Pachulia, lead guard Raymond Felton and other veterans that helped the the Mavericks capture the sixth seed in the Western Conference last season. And according to Carlisle, it’s unclear how different the team’s style of play will look as he attempts to bring together a cast of new characters.

“I think it could be quite different,” Carlisle said in a recent interview with 103.3 FM ESPN. “You know, at this point, I don’t know that for sure. We’ll have to see. We’re more physical. You know, Parsons was a guy that is a different kind of player than Barnes, and Parsons was a very good ball-handler and playmaker. You know, I think Barnes can develop into a playmaker, but that has not been his DNA and that has not been what’s been asked of him in Golden State. What I found spending five days in the gym working out with him is that he’s a better ball-handler than most of us would expect, but we’re going to have to ease him into those situations and just kind of go from there.”

Integrating a slower pace after the Mavs fell three games below .500 following a 133-111 loss in Sacramento on March 27, Carlisle then led his team to six straight victories from March 28 to April 8 and wins in seven of the final nine games to finish with a 42-40 record. Carlisle’s decision to slow down the pace also had a positive impact on the the Dallas defense, leading the Mavericks to hold opponents to an average of 88.6 points on 43.8 percent shooting during the final nine games. Now, Carlisle could again opt to play at a slower pace to ensure that the Mavs remain competitive in the ever-changing West.

Averaging 102.3 points per game as a team during the 2015-16 season, the Mavericks ranked 16th in the league in that department. They also finished the season with a 104.8 offensive rating, which was good for 10th in the league. However, with the free-agent departures of Parsons to Memphis and Felton to the Los Angeles Clippers, it remains to be seen how effective the Dallas offense will be while integrating new faces.

Vice versa, the Mavs finished with just a 104.3 defensive rating and surrendered 102.6 points per outing on the defensive end, ranking 14th in that category while struggling to contain opposing teams for most of the season. Those numbers figure to improve with Bogut, a former All-Defensive team selection, anchoring the front line. Still, despite seeing plenty of late-season defensive success and adding a proven rim-protector, Carlisle says it’s unclear which style of play best fits the new-look team.

“I think we can be a better defensive team, because of Bogut, and I think we’ll be a more physical defensive team from top to bottom. And then it’s going to come down to style,” Carlisle explained. “You know, at this point and time, everything is on paper, and we’re really going to have to look closely in terms of what’s the right style of play for this team. Whether it is going to be continuing to be a real up-tempo, fast-paced type of team, or is it going to be a little more of a medium-tempo type of team? We’ll see. But I think we’re going to have the option to play different ways, which is a very important thing to have.”

Mavs’ trade for veteran Andrew Bogut adds ‘legitimate’ starting center, Rick Carlisle says

DALLAS — Although the summer signing of 24-year-old budding star Harrison Barnes received most of the offseason headlines for the Dallas Mavericks, it was the acquisition of another member of the Golden State Warriors’ 2015 championship squad that figures to have a big impact this upcoming season.

Working out a trade with Golden State for the services of center Andrew Bogut on July 7, the Mavericks also received a future second-round pick in exchange for a future conditional second-round pick. The 31-year-old Bogut is an 11-year veteran with plenty of big-game experience, averaging 10.3 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.6 blocks in 644 total outings for his career during stints with Milwaukee and Golden State. The 7-footer and former No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 NBA Draft is now expected to have a major impact on the Dallas defense, which ranked 16th in the league last season with a 104.3 defensive rating. And according to Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, the acquisition of Bogut gives the team a solidified force in the middle of the lineup.

“You know, it gives us not only a legitimate starting center, but it gives us one of the best centers in the game,” Carlisle said while addressing the trade for Bogut during a recent interview with NBA TV.

He added: “I’m looking forward to getting to know Andrew. He’s overseas in Australia with their national team. And you know, it will be a lot happening quick.”

Earning All-NBA Third Team honors with the Bucks during the ’09-10 season, Bogut continued to add to his extensive resume when he also was named to the All-Defensive Second Team with the Warriors as they made their championship run during the ’14-15 campaign. Bogut also averaged a double-double during three consecutive seasons with the Bucks from ’08-11, showcasing his offensive versatility and rebounding prowess. He’ll now be asked to step into a role that was manned primarily by fellow veteran Zaza Pachulia in Dallas’ starting lineup last season.

Playing in 70 games for the Warriors during the ’15-16 schedule, Bogut averaged a career-low 5.4 points and 7.0 rebounds while clocking just 20.7 minutes an outing. Vice versa, Pachulia averaged 8.6 points and 9.4 boards a game, recording a career-high 26 double-doubles to boot. But it’s the defensive impact that Bogut figures to have that has the Mavs most excited as he steps into a starting role.

Last season, Bogut proved that he’s still an above-average rim protector while equaling his career average by registering 1.6 blocks per game. Compare that to Pachulia’s .3 blocks an outing, and the Mavs certainly expect an upgrade to their interior defense. Bogut also held a 97.2 personal defensive rating and 111.4 offensive rating when he was on the floor last season, finishing the year with a 14.2 net rating that was ranked 14th in the entire league. All of which should now benefit the Mavericks as Bogut joins a front line that already features 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki.

Rick Carlisle’s late-season style change gives Mavs blueprint going forward

DALLAS — Although he admits that the Dallas Mavericks’ 2015-16 season was mired by injuries, coach Rick Carlisle enters the summer with his head held high after seeing the team battle its way into the playoffs.

Passing Don Nelson (339) to become the winningest coach in franchise history with a 103-93 road victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Nov. 1, Carlisle reached his fair share of personal success during the season. He also continued to climb up the NBA’s coaching ranks by passing the late Flip Saunders (654) for 20th place on the league’s all-time wins list with a 97-88 victory at Denver on March 28. But after seeing the Mavericks fall three games below .500 following a 133-111 loss in Sacramento on March 27, Carlisle may have faced his biggest challenge since taking over the team’s coaching duties prior to the start of the ‘08-09 season.

Showcasing his coaching versatility by integrating a slower pace after that defining loss, Carlisle led his team to six straight victories from March 28 to April 8 and wins in seven of the final nine games of the season to reach the playoffs for the 15th time in the last 16 years. Meanwhile, the Dallas defense proved to be the key down the stretch, holding opponents to an average of 88.6 points on 43.8 percent shooting during the final nine games. And after adopting a defense-first mentality late in the season, Carlisle could have found a blueprint for the Mavs’ success going forward.

“Well, I like this team a lot,” Carlisle confessed during his exit interview with the Dallas media following the Mavericks’ first-round playoff exit in five games to Oklahoma City. “This was one of my favorite teams to coach in 15 years of NBA head coaching. Great guys, great locker room, and they really wanted to win. They really wanted to make the playoffs to the point where they were willing to undergo a pretty significant syle change with nine games to go in the season, so I’m proud of them.

“We figured it out,” he added. “You want it to be more on the quicker side, but when we had the bad game in Sacramento it was pretty clear we had to do something drastic. You know, we changed the tempo a little bit, we got some more energetic guys in the lineup and we made a stand and made a run, which was great. But injuries are all a part of the NBA. That’s going to be constant. You’ve got to have a roster that can absorb injuries and you’ve got to have a great medical staff, which we have. And you’ve got to be able to navigate through it, so we did.”

Inserting rookie Justin Anderson and second-year big man Dwight Powell into the first unit after the loss in Sacramento, Carlisle credits the growth of his two youngest players on the roster for the late-season spark. However, it was Carlisle’s adaptation to a slow-paced offense that led to the turnaround, according to 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki, as the Mavs ascended to the sixth seed in the Western Conference.

Averaging 102.3 points per game as a team for the season, the Mavericks ranked 16th in the league in that department. They also finished the season with a 104.8 offensive rating, which was good for 10th in the league. Vice versa, the Mavs surrendered 102.6 points per outing on the defensive end, ranking 14th in that category as they struggled to contain opposing teams on that end of the floor. And despite finishing with just a 104.3 defensive rating, the Mavericks saw plenty of late-season success on that side of the ball to give them encouragement going forward.

“I think this franchise and Rick have shown that we want to do whatever it takes to win. Whether it means win 75-73 or win 130-128, I don’t think it really matters to this franchise how we win,” Nowitzki admitted.

He added: “I think we just had to do it, ’cause we didn’t have a lot of bodies. We didn’t have a lot of bodies to run up and down and sub in and out, so we kind of slowed the game down. And it really helped us. It helped up in setting up our defense, which was an issue for us the entire year, and in transition D with an older team. We’re not a real athletic team and that wasn’t great all year, so by slowing the game down on offense it really helped us set our defense. It definitely helped there, winning six games straight and sneaking in the playoffs. I don’t think it’s the most fun style to play or watch necessarily, but wins are what we play for, so sometimes you just have to win ugly. And at that point we just had to slow it down to win some games, and we did.”