While every team is entering the NBA “bubble” at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida with essentially a fresh 0-0 record, that doesn’t mean that all 22 teams are on equal footing. The Dallas Mavericks hold the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference, seven games ahead of the No. 8 seed Memphis Grizzlies. To keep that standing, or even move up, the Mavericks must get back to their winning ways and improve in a couple of areas.
Dallas’ most effective weapon before the hiatus was its offense. They were scorching opponents. The Mavericks had the best offensive rating in the league at 115.8, more than two points higher than the second place Houston Rockets. Not only is it the best mark in the NBA this year, it’s the best mark in league history. As such, head coach Rick Carlisle doesn’t foresee the need to change the offense up dramatically.
“I don’t see anything big in terms of schematic changes,” Carlisle said. “But I do think we need to get better in a couple of areas. I think defensively, we have a chance to really improve. That’s an area where we were in the 20s in defense at the beginning of the year. Now, we’re around 14 or 15, I think. The top 10 is a goal of ours. We would like to get there.”
Carlisle is almost right. His team actually ranks No. 17 in defensive rating—110.0, per NBA.com. For comparison, the Milwaukee Bucks, the No. 1 ranked defense, have a rating of 101.6. To crack the top 10, the Mavericks will have to get down below 108.7. It’s not an impossible task, though.
In November, the Mavericks were humming along with a defensive rating of 108.8. That improved to 106.6 in December. Then 2020 happened. Dallas’ defensive rating fell to 115.8 in January, the third worst mark in the league for the month. They clawed their way up to a 112.4 rating in February. In the seven games before the season was suspended in March, the Mavs had the fourth best defense in the league at 104.3.
The Mavericks just haven’t found consistency on the defensive end. Some of that may have to do with the number of injuries and various rotations the team has seen. But one thing is certain, Dallas doesn’t have a lot of games make adjustments before the playoffs begin.
Another area where the Mavs have found woeful inconsistency is free throw shooting. In past years, Dallas ranked among the tops in the league in terms of percentage. That’s not the case this season. They’re shooting just 77.3 percent from the foul line, good for fifteenth in the league. With as many close games as the Mavs play, they can’t afford to leave points on the board.
“During this period, our guys have done an enormous amount of work on just concentrating and getting better,” Carlisle said. “Free throw shooting is a different kind of endeavor. There’s not a whole lot of creativity to it. It’s a rote kind of repetition and it’s getting a routine that you trust and just repeating it and repeating it — getting in situations where you can work on simulating game situations.”
Game situations will be a little different in Orlando. When players step to the charity strip, there won’t be a see of fans flailing back and forth, banging inflatable noise sticks together trying to distract the players. Instead, they’ll be met with empty seats. Potential psychological distraction aside, Dallas — particularly Luka Doncic, who gets to the line the most — must start making its freebies.
Dallas begins practicing as a team today. They’ll have the rest of the month to work themselves into shape and work on improving their defense and free throw shooting. Overall, though, Carlisle likes what he sees.
“I feel good about where we’re at this particular moment,” Carlisle said. “As we know, there’s a lot of delicacy with this situation. We’re going to stay very humble about where we are and keep moving forward with a really good attitude and a consistent approach.”