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The Mavericks defense needs reinforcements

With key defenders out, Dallas is having trouble getting stops

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Los Angeles Clippers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

There’s no nice way to put this — the Mavericks defense isn’t good right now. It’s running out of steam, and injuries to three crucial rotation players (including one prominent starter) hasn’t helped.

Currently the Mavericks give up 114.6 points per 100 possessions, the 20th ranked defense in the NBA, according to stats site Cleaning the Glass (which excludes garbage time possessions for cleaner data). In the last two weeks that number has been significantly worse — 120.2 points per 100 possessions, ranked 27th.

First things first before going any further: Dorian Finney-Smith, Maxi Kleber, and Josh Green haven’t all been healthy in a game since Dec. 9 against the Milwaukee Bucks. That was the last game Green played in before going out with a sprained elbow on his right arm. Kleber then tore his hamstring during a practice after a Dec. 12 game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Finney-Smith exited the lineup shortly after with an abductor injury on Dec. 19 against the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Mavericks defense just hasn’t been the same since, relying on more offensive-first players to fill in the gaps like increased minutes for Spencer Dinwiddie, Tim Hardaway Jr., and players like Davis Bertans, Jaden Hardy, and JaVale McGee entering the rotation.

Perhaps the worst part about the Mavericks defensive slide is that how they’re giving up points is much more concerning than the amount of points. Basically, the process is almost more damaging than the results.

In the Mavericks last six games (dating back to the New Years Eve matchup with San Antonio), Dallas’ defense is 25th in percentage of shots allowed at the rim. The Mavericks are still doing a good job limiting three pointers, but that almost feels like a byproduct of every team participating in a layup line instead of dishing out for a three pointer. It’s actually a little troubling that the Mavericks defensive slide isn’t corresponding with hot opponent three point shooting — in the last six games, teams are hitting 34.6 percent of their threes against the Mavericks, although to be fair that does include New Orleans wretched 5-for-29 night. Even removing that, the number still isn’t so much of a statistical outlier (38 percent) that the Mavericks are due for some good shooting luck variance.

Mavericks Defensive Shot Profile Last 6 Games

Opponent Rim Makes Rim Attempts Opponent Average Rim Attempts Per Game Three Point Makes Three Point Attempts Opponent Average Three Point Attempts Per Game
Opponent Rim Makes Rim Attempts Opponent Average Rim Attempts Per Game Three Point Makes Three Point Attempts Opponent Average Three Point Attempts Per Game
Clippers 15 28 22.9 12 31 33.5
Thunder 20 38 33 12 28 33.8
Pelicans 22 35 31.6 5 29 30.8
Celtics 14 18 23.9 16 43 41.7
Rockets 18 28 27.6 9 29 35.2
Spurs 23 31 27.8 8 19 31.7

The Mavericks as a team are allowing 60.3 percent shooting on opponent shots at the rim in the last six games according to, which is actually pretty good. Unfortunately the sheer volume of rim attempts (and the random amount of bunnies that opponents have missed) is just not sustainable, which is why the defense has fallen off.

There aren’t a lot of tangible options available to the Mavericks. Christian Wood’s increased shot-blocking is nice, but there are still lapses at the rim between those blocks. D Magazine’s Iztok Franko said the Mavericks played some zone Tuesday night against the Clippers, which could be a band-aid. But again, playing zone with a bunch of players that aren’t used to play a lot of minutes together due to injury can be tough. To make matters worse, Dwight Powell left the Clippers loss with a hip contusion and was unable to return. Powell was the Mavericks best option against bigger wings with Kleber and Finney-Smith out and if Powell misses extended time, that will only set the defense further back (yes Mavericks fans, Powell has helped on defense).

This is a grueling part of the schedule and the best answer might be for the Mavericks to just bear down and fight through it. The Mavericks schedule isn’t getting any easier, with three more West Coast games and then two home games against East playoff contenders in Miami and Atlanta. While Kleber’s absence could last the rest of the regular season, Finney-Smith and Green traveled on this road trip, meaning they could make an appearance soon. Green even participated in some contact scrimmaging on Wednesday, with coach Jason Kidd telling reporters afterward “he looks great.” Hopefully that’s a sign of a swift return, because Dallas needs all the help it can get defensively, and quickly.