DALLAS – With the way they’ve shut down opponents in recent weeks, the Dallas Mavericks finally have an identity they can lean on.

And it all points to their stingy defense.

“We’ve gained an identity as a defensive team and that’s a really important thing for us,” coach Rick Carlisle said after Monday’s practice at the Lympo practice facilities. “We are a defensive team first and we play off of our defense.

“The last two weeks we’ve picked up our defense to a very high level and the challenge is going to be to continue to keep it there.”

Starting with a 111-96 triumph over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Nov. 10, the Mavs have posted a 6-1 record. That includes holding those seven foes to an average of 85.8 points per game, and limiting four of them to under 100 points.

It also includes holding the Utah Jazz to just 68 points during a massive 50-point victory on Nov. 14. In fact, the lone loss during this seven-game stretch of games – 98-88 at Memphis this past Monday – the Mavs still held the Grizzlies to less than 100 points.

Guard J. J. Barea said a change in strategy helped jump-start the defense’s effectiveness.

“We kept it more solid two weeks ago,” Barea said. “We were trying too much different stuff, and now we just kept it solid and just play hard, help each other out, talk.

“We’re going through the basics at practice and it’s helping.”

It also helps to have one of the NBA’s best centers in DeAndre Jordan, who has produced 12 double-doubles this season and is third in the league in rebounds with 13.6 per game. Also, Maxi Kleber leads the Mavs in blocked shots with 1.4 per game, and Salah Merji came on strong during the past two games.

“We’ve got D. J. in the back,” Barea said. “He’s a force, so we need him to be that force. Salah, the last couple of games, has been great.

“Maxi’s great at protecting the rim, and all the guards got to do their job. We want to play defense, we got to play defense better.”

Ever since a disappointing 2-7 start to this season when the Mavs were trying to get their chemistry intact, they’ve been having a lot of fun lately while winning seven of their last nine games. Jordan even picked up Barea and carried him near the bench after the latter nailed a crucial 3-pointer late in this past Saturday’s 113-104 victory over the Boston Celtics.

Barea, his teammates and the fans got a kick out of Jordan’s shenanigans.

“Any time that happens that means that the team is going good, that means we’re playing good, the fans are enjoying it,” Barea said. “We need to see more of that.”

Carlisle has noticed how much fun his players are having on the court.

“It’s NBA basketball,” Carlisle said. “Everybody’s getting paid a lot of money.

“I don’t know why everybody wouldn’t have fun.”

The Mavs (9-9) hope to continue having fun when they start a two-game road trip Wednesday in Houston against the Rockets (9-9). They just hope their defense is as hard-nosed as its been the past two weeks.

“We know our offense is going to be good — even on bad days it’s still going to be good,” Barea said. “So the defense has to help a lot.”

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