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The Mavericks have succeeded through Rick Carlisle's core values

Rick Carlisle put the Mavericks in a position to succeed by resorting to what he knows best.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

When Rick Carlisle enters the media room for the NBA-mandated pre-game press conference, dressed head to toe in Mavs athletic gear, he has the look of an east Philly boxing trainer. A 6’5 Carlisle takes a seat on his foldable metal chair, hunched over, and fields questions. The words force, fight, and disposition will inevitably make their way into a Carlisle answer. He walks the thin line of being an innovative, post-modern basketball thinker who still values old-school determination and will above all else. It’s a delicate balance that has overwhelmed many coaches in this league.

After an embarrassing loss to Sacramento in which the Mavericks allowed 133 points to a dilapidated Kings squad, Carlisle wiped the slate clean. With Chandler Parsons out for the season, Carlisle no longer had the key to his small ball treasure chest. The roster simply did not have enough wing depth. When the Mavericks were backed into a corner, Carlisle resorted to his core values: force, fight and disposition. He slowed their pace to a crawl, plugged Justin Anderson into the starting lineup and three weeks later, the Mavericks found themselves slotted in the sixth seed. As they head into the postseason, the Mavericks stand a puncher’s chance in the first round because they imbue Rick Carlisle’s core ethos.

In the nine remaining games after the debacle in Sacramento, Dallas ranked second in defense with a 96.8 defensive rating. That’s a full eight points lower than their season average. In addition, they sported the fifth-best net rating in the league during that time. Plugging Justin Anderson into the starting lineup alongside Wesley Matthews provided two defensive-minded wings in their starting lineup for the first time since that magical 2011 season.

"It's a style change. It's a style of play that is characterized by sacrifice because when you take longer possessions on offense and commit to controlling the tempo of the game, you are going to have some more difficult shots," said Carlisle after a crucial win against the Rockets on April 8.

A slow, methodical offensive rhythm would not be possible without the brilliance of Dirk Nowitzki. His gravity and shotmaking create avenues for success in late clock situations that otherwise wouldn't exist. In a time of crisis, Carlisle resorted to his bread and butter: the Barea-Nowitzki pick and roll. When Barea catches fire from beyond the arc, the two man game between he and Nowitzki is impossible for defenders to navigate. The Puerto Rican native has a knack for rising to the occasion when he is called upon. You don't survive 10 years in the league as an 5'8 point guard without an insatiable competitive gene.

Matthews works as an extension of Carlisle’s values on the court. He both walks and talks self determination. Over the course of an 82-game season, talk about grit and determination can bog down as cliches. But make no mistake about it, Matthews doesn't get caught up in empty rhetoric. His competitive edge spills over to everyone that shares the court with him.

"We're starting to understand that this is how we've got to play. We've got to stop teams. We've got to be able to rely on our defense," said Matthews after the win against the Rockets.

Despite a career-worst shooting season, Matthews lead the team in minutes during the regular season and posted a 2.7 net rating.

The Mavericks’ improbable defensive transformation down the stretch has been buoyed by a shift in their offensive philosophy. Carlisle commandeered the offense by slowing it to pre-historic levels. He reduced their pace to a league-low 88.9 possessions per game while maintaining the second lowest amount of turnovers in the league. Force has to be coupled with genius in order to breed success. Like Carlisle likes to point out, when the Mavericks can set up in the half court, they defend as well as anyone in the league.

Carlisle’s concoction of slow pace and strong defense carries an aroma of early 2000s Eastern Conference basketball, but the philosophy has a proven track record in the playoffs. It will take the collective will of a misfit cast of characters—a 29-year old rookie from Tunisia, an undrafted 5’8 point guard, a quick but rotund combo guard—but the Mavericks have the tools to chisel a narrow path towards the second round.

"We're the masking tape Mavs," Carlisle said after the Mavericks' season finale. "Our guys have done it on grit and guts."

The Mavericks arrived at the playoffs because of grit and guts, but genius will determine just how far they go.