At the start of the season, Dallas came out on a tear defensively and pundits all over the country began to recognize the team is now playing defense. They have held their last 30 opponents to under 50% shooting, the longest streak in the NBA. Tyson Chandler plays a critical role in that overall improvement, but credit goes towards the other players really buying into coach Rick Carlisle's approach towards the defensive end of the court. Carlisle even acknowledged that most of the time in their practices are geared more towards defense instead of offense.
The defensive numbers have improved from last season. If you look at their opponents field goal percentage, point differential and points per possession, you'll notice that they are all better numbers compared to last year's squad.
For example, the Mavericks are currently 3rd in the league in terms of points per shot at 1.16. That has them tied with the San Antonio Spurs and just behind the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat. Last season, the Mavericks were ranked 8th in the league with points per shot at 1.20. It doesn't sound like a radical difference but over the long haul of a season, it really adds up. They also rank 8th in the league in terms of points per possession. "It's early, we're still working on things," said Carlisle. "We want to get better. The important thing is we want to sustain what we're doing but we want to be able to improve. That's got to be a real emphasis, improvement."
In order for this team to get to where it ultimately wants to go, it'll need to sustain their energy level and continue their overall improvement on that side of the court. "I'm just going to keep talking about defense, defense is going to be in the key," Carlisle said. "Look at teams in the finals last year, those games were in the 70s and 80s. You're going to have to be able to stop teams and be able to score in low-scoring games."
The Mavericks have improved, but red flags are now being raised. Over their last six games, the Mavericks have had only 2 quarters in the second halves of games out of a possible 12 where they held opponents below their quarterly averages. The Mavericks came in to the Portland game allowing 24.3 points in the third quarters of games and 22.5 in the fourth quarters. The third quarter of the Golden State game (24) and the fourth quarter of the New Jersey game (20) are the only quarters that have been at or below the average. They allowed Portland to score 29 and 30 points in the third and fourth quarters, respectively. "Defense can come and go in that sometimes, opponents shake you up," Tyson Chandler said. "The effort can always be there and I feel like we make some great efforts, but they'll get a loose ball and still score. You're going to go through some times like that."
Coach Carlisle has preached selective amnesia when it comes to offensive struggles, it might be time to clean the slate and start anew on the other end of the court. The issue can't be a lingering one, it will need to get addressed if the team has championship aspirations.
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