You had to go back to November 19th to find the last time the Mavericks had actually lost a game. The day after the defeat against the Milwaukee Bucks, the Dallas Mavericks had a film session and a lengthy practice to go over their mistakes and look ahead to the Portland Trailblazers. They worked on their screen and roll defense and keeping the intensity up on their zone defense. Overall, just getting back to the basics and getting back to doing things that got them on their winning streak. "We had some very good defensive possessions, but we didn't have enough of them in a row last night at key times," Carlisle said to the media after practice. "Again, we're working at being able to sustain good play at the defensive end and be able to do the same thing offensively."
The growing concern is the Mavericks inability to sustain 20-point leads and put them in situations to win a game at the very end. "The NBA game is 48 minutes, which is a long time," said Carlisle. "Each play is part of the process, and you've got to work the game possession by possession regardless of the score. And, I think that's where our mentality has to be. When teams get big leads in this league, other teams fight back."
"There were some things leading up to the Milwaukee game that we knew we needed to get cleaned up," said Carlisle. "That's why today becomes even more important." After the hard-fought victory in Utah, you could start to see the slip in the Mavericks when it came to defense. Over the first part of the home-stand, the Mavericks had allowed their opposition to shoot 46% from the field and 47% from beyond the arc. Their season averages are forcing teams into 43% shooting and 37% from beyond the arc.
At this point last season, the team became sluggish on defense and the results showed that. Will this year bring a new set of circumstances? "It has to," said Carlisle. "At this point last year is when we had one of our dips, defensively. Right now, we've got to circle the wagons and make sure that we can stay on track and not only sustain, but get better."
Mavericks Center Tyson Chandler pointed out where the defensive intensity needs to start, "We've got to compete in practice on the defensive end throughout the entire practice. From the first guy on the bench to the last, we have to be held accountable for what we're doing out there defensively and we have to make sure it's for an entire game not just spurts here and there." That goes back to Mark Cuban's concerns about this team, the fact they're not playing 48 minutes of basketball, just doing enough to get a victory.
"What we have to do is take that loss and turn it into a positive," said Chandler. "It's good that it happened now, this time of the season, rather than later on in the season." Chandler told the media that this is definitely a wake-up call. "Sometimes it takes a loss to wake up and say, 'Alright, on any given night anyone can beat us.' So what happens is, that sticks in the back of guy's heads and forces guys to play the entire game and not just say, 'OK, we're better than them so at the end of the game we'll beat them.' It's not going to happen every night."
The Portland Trailblazers come to town on Wednesday and they've had the Mavericks' number. The all-time record against Portland is 18-44. Portland won 3 out of 4 encounters against Dallas last season, including a game in Dallas that went to overtime. That game had Andre Miller scoring 52 points. What exactly did Portland do last season to have their success? "Everything," said Carlisle.
For now, the team is back to work and the coach is interested to see what happens going forward. "I'm curious with how we respond tomorrow, I think it's important," said Carlisle. "We had a real opportunity (against Milwaukee) to keep it going, to keep going in a real positive vein and we gave up that opportunity, that's disappointing. With better teams coming in, I want to see how we respond and I think we'll respond well."
"This is a key stretch for us," Carlisle concluded. "Home-stands are important, you've got to win as many games as you can win. With two left, it's two opportunities for us but as I said, the competition is getting better so we've got to be prepared."