DALLAS -- Although coach Rick Carlisle is concerned about recent defensive slippage, he is hopeful the club will get back to the defensive structure it assumed during the bulk of the 12-game win streak.
Carlisle believes the team has realized that it won't contend in the Western Conference without a disciplined approach to defense, which the team says it has bought into since opening training camp.
"We’re in the third year and we’ve gotten to a point where we understand how important defense and rebounding is to our success," Carlisle said. "When I first got here, the talk was all about a change in offensive philosophy. And we did that, we scored a lot of points. We got beat in a lot of games. It wasn’t until we got better defensively and really honed in on it that we turned that season around. The key with any team is to find the right balance. This roster needs to have a flow approach offensively as much as possible, but we’ve got to maintain a possession mentality defensively, and those two things can be diametric opposites.
"The challenge is to sell defense and the importance of defense and rebounding on the one hand, but be able to still move the ball up and down the court and play free. The great teams can do it and the great teams win championships doing it and the teams that can’t do both don’t get as far."
That pretty much says it all. So as the Mavs regroup in preparation to face the Portland Trail Blazerstonight at American Airlines Center, the focus will shift back to defense. Are the Mavs truly committed? Or was the first quarter of the season no different than last season when defense lifted Dallas to a 19-7 start before fading into months of .500 basketball?
"Last year we got off to a great start defensively and we had slippage in December and late January and early February and that cost us and it affected our overall year," Carlisle said. "Then we made the trade and got on a big run. This year we have everybody from Day One, which really helps. Tyson Chandler has really helped us defensively. He’s helped our overall spirit, enthusiasm and energy, and to not state him being here as a major plus for us would be a mistake. It would be an inaccuracy.
"To this point, we’ve made great progress defensively, but we’ve got to stay steadfast about sustaining and continuing to improve. Otherwise, we’re going to lose momentum and when you lose momentum it’s not easy to get it back."
To a man after Tuesday's brisk practice, the Mavs say their defense, which has gone sluggish after building 20-point-plus leads in the last three games, won't falter.
"We have to be more consistent with what we’re trying to accomplish defensively because once we get teams down like that our defense is what’s going to be able to keep them down," Chandler said. "That’s been kind of a pattern, getting teams down and teams coming back, but there are going to be cases in this league where teams are going to come back. But, you want to be able to say, 'OK, we did things defensively correct out there and they just made some shots.'
"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 and not just for spurts here and there."